Iran ramps up arming terrorist groups in Sahel region

Iran has been more actively engaged in Africa in recent months, especially in the Sahel region of western and north-central Africa, which lies between the Sahara desert and the Sudanian savanna.

Iranian drones and weapons have been used in recent conflicts in Ethiopia and Somalia, according to some reports, fuelling speculation that Iran intends to increase its arms sales to Africa.

The actions and agenda of the Islamic Republic and its ally Russia in the Sahel region also have come under increased scrutiny of late — especially since the French withdrawal from Mali — with both accused of disrupting stability and security.

At an October 4 press conference, Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita accused Iran of working through intermediaries to destabilise north and west Africa.

Bourita said Iran supports separatist and extremist groups by providing them with weapons and drones, undermining peace and security in the region.

Morocco has made the same accusations before, and in 2018 severed ties with Iran, accusing Iran-backed Lebanese Hizbullah of arming and training the separatist Polisario Front.

Both Iran and the Polisario denied the claims, the Morocco World News media outlet reported, but Morocco said it had backed its claims with extensive reports detailing meetings held in Algeria between Hizbullah and Polisario officials.

According to the Atalayar media outlet, the reports revealed the military assistance Tehran provided to the Polisario Front by Kassim Tajideen, a Lebanese businessman linked to Hizbullah.

A report just this week presented evidence that Iran was also playing a central role in a network of arms traffickers that have facilitated weapons transfers to multiple terrorist groups in the Horn of Africa.

Iran typically uses diplomacy and economic relations as a gateway to advance its expansionist policies, which is the approach it has chosen in Mali, Sahel region analyst Mohammed al-Amin al-Dah said.

Amid the recent tensions, Iran has intensified its activities in Mali, he said, in an apparent attempt to fill the void left by the withdrawal of France, and to take advantage of the ruling military junta’s pursuit of a new direction.

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