Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hezbollah and Al Qaeda Targeting Angola

More than one year ago, China Confidential reported on the Islamist threat to Angola, an overwhelmingly Christian, resource-rich country that is important to the energy security of both the United States and China, and to the stability of all of South-Central Africa. Click here for the September 2008 China Confidential report--on the decapitation of an Angolan girl by a mob of Muslim extremists.

Unfortunately, the Islamist threat to Angola has increased as Iran's Islamist Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda have set their sights on destabilizing a potential pole of stability that is striving to overcome nearly three decades of bloody civil war.

When it comes to Angola, Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni Al Qaeda share certain long-range objectives: to disrupt the supply of oil--Angola rivals Nigeria as sub-Saharan Africa's largest producer--to control the Angolan diamond industry, to convert Angolans to Islam and Islamism, and to sabotage Angolan-Israeli relations.

Aiding Angola's enemies is the so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, an Angolan neighbor known for its horrific human rights abuses and a decades-old conflict, The Second Congo War, sometimes called the African World War, which continues to rage in the eastern part of the country, despite the signing of peace accords in 2003. The Congo conflict is the world's worst since World War II. More than five million people have been killed; and the prevalence of rape in the DRC is worse than anywhere on the planet.

DRC Springboard

With the DRC as a springboard, Islamists are trying to gain a foothold in Angola through Muslim NGOs, mosque construction, Islamic centers and Koranic schools--all signs of Muslim growth in a former Portuguese colony, where the Christian population has been estimated at anywhere from 53% to more than 93% with nearly all the remaining population adhering to indigenous beliefs.

In contrast with Angola, Muslims constitute about 10% of the Congolese population. (Islam has been present within the area since the 18th century, when Arab traders from East Africa pushed into the interior for ivory and slave trading purposes.)

In Angola's diamond provinces, historically, Muslims have been mainly west African immigrants and illegal immigrants from the DRC who have become Muslims while working in the DRC's diamond areas. Some Muslims in Angola's diamond provinces have become channels of investment for terrorist networks seeking to purchase diamonds from illegal miners, known as garimpeiros.

Diamond sales reached approximately $1.1 billion in 2006. Despite increased corporate ownership of diamond fields, much production is currently in the hands of the garimpeiros. The government is making an increased effort to register and license prospectors. It has established an export certification scheme to identify legitimate production and sales.

Apart from the diamond trade, many younger Angolans have been attracted by the economic success and social status of Muslim businessmen. The promise of solidarity can be a powerful lure to impoverished people. Despite a fast-growing economy largely due to its oil boom, Angola ranks in the bottom 10% of most socioeconomic indicators. It is still recovering from 27 years of nearly continuous warfare. Corruption and mismanagement are persistent problems. Despite abundant natural resources and rising per capita GDP, Angola was ranked 157 out of 179 countries on the 2008 UN Development Program's Human Development Index. Subsistence agriculture sustains one-third of the population.

The rapidly expanding petroleum industry reached its Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cap of 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2008. But Angola’s production was cut to 1.64 million bpd in January 2009 by an OPEC mandate in response to plummeting oil prices. Crude oil accounted for 83% of GDP, 95% of exports, and 83% of government revenues in 2008. Angola plans to boost oil output back up to 2 million bpd next year, from the current level of 1.93 million bpd.

Looking at Angolan oil output, it is easy to see why Angolan officials refer to the U.S. as a "strategic partner." Approximately 11% of oil consumed in the U.S. comes from Angola, and the government plans to increase that share.

Angola's ties to China are also strong. In 2008, the African nation was China’s second-leading source country for crude oil by volume, importing 599 million barrels valued at U.S. $59.900 billion, up 19.3% year on year.

Long Civil War

As indicated above, Angola was a Portuguese overseas territory from the 16th century to 1975. After independence, Angola was the scene of an intense civil war from 1975 to 2002. The U.S. and South Africa supported the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, led by Jonas Savimbi, while the Soviet Union and Cuba backed the ruling Marxist party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, under the leadership of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the country's current president.

In the 1990s, Israelis also began assisting the government's forces. The LR Group and several Israeli arms dealers supplied dos Santos' forces with equipment that, in the view of some Angolans, determined the outcome of the war. China Confidential intelligence experts say Israelis also helped in the killing of the rebel leader Savimbi in 2002, an event that ended the fighting. Israel's backing of the government, which suffered from an international embargo, strengthened relations; and Israelis were integrated into projects run by the state, which abandoned its Marxist heritage.

Africa has long been a hub of Hezbollah activity; and Israelis in Angola could be a target of Hezbollah and Al Qaeda terrorists. Both groups are believed to have established cells in the country; and intelligence sources say several important Hezbollah operatives who were active in South America's infamous tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay during the mid-1990s have relocated to Angola after first infiltrating the DRC.

In August 2008 the counterterrorism bureau within the Israeli National Security Council warned Israeli nationals living in Africa of a specific warning of a pending Hezbollah attack targeting Israelis in Africa. A few weeks later, senior Israeli officials confirmed that two attempts by Hezbollah operatives to kidnap Israeli citizens abroad had recently been thwarted. (Warnings were also issued in April of this year to Israeli businesspeople traveling to Europe.)

A Terrorist's Best Friend

Diamonds are a terrorist's best friend; and Hezbollah is no exception. Its involvement in the international diamond trade is well documented. The Foreign Terrorist Organization (U.S. State Department designation) learned to raise significant funds by dealing in conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the DRC. Hezbollah continues to profit from illegal networks in all key diamond centers, as well as in more remote areas in diamond-rich West and Central African states. Hezbollah buyers make themselves accessible to informal (i.e. illegal) miners and middlemen.

Angola's oil and identity politics are additional attractions for terrorists and others interested in promoting instability. A smoldering conflict has plagued Angola’s oil rich Cabinda province since independence. More than half the country's oil is produced in the 7,283 square kilometer enclave--nicknamed the Kuwait of Africa--which is located some 60 kilometers north of the Congo River and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), and the DRC.

Cabinda is physically separated from the rest of Angola by (a) the DRC, and (b) a distinct culture and history. The territory's three Kikongo-speaking kingdoms of N'Goyo, Kakongo, and Loango maintained their independence from European empire-builders until the Treaty of Simulambuco in 1885 turned their realms into a Portuguese protectorate with its own governor. Cabinda's population, presently estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000, largely belong to ethnic groups who traditionally straddle the enclave's political frontiers. Although 90% of educated Cabindans speak French, less than 10% speak Angola's official language, Portuguese.