Olivier Walther and Christian Leuprecht
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Mapping and Deterring Violent Extremist Networks in North-West Africa

Department of Border Region Studies

Abstract

This article examines the structural and spatial organization of violent extremist organizations (VEOs) across the Sahara. Building on the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED), a public collection of political violence data for developing states, the article investigates structural connections of VEOs and the effect of borders on the spatial patterns of armed groups. Social network analysis reveals that the network involving VEOs had a low density, a low level of transitivity, and contained few central actors, three typical characteristics of negative-tie networks. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is unquestionably the most connected VEO, which in purely network terms can be seen as a liability. Spatial analysis shows that, while violence was almost exclusively concentrated within Algeria between 1997 and 2004, cross-border movements intensified in the mid-2000s following the establishment of military bases by AQIM in Mali. As of late, VEOs have primarily concentrated their operations in Northern Mali as well as Southern Algeria, whereas Mauritania, Niger and Chad have been relatively unaffected. It follows that deterrence and containment strategies should be devised for regions rather than states. The findings have significant implications for multinational security and stability operations and the need to coordinate transnationally.