Informed observers of the Horn of Africa remain amazed at the level of toleration for the activities in the Western capitals of a tiny, well-funded group of jihad-linked East African exile terrorist groups. Mainly based in Sudan, they call themselves the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces (AENF) and they include a founding member the Eritrean Islamic Jihad, which is on the U.S. State Department’s al-Qaeda list of member organizations.
The AENF was founded in the summer of 2001 in an Ethiopian government-sponsored conference in Gonder, Ethiopia. The core handful of active members in the AENF range from pre-bin Laden East African jihadist cell leaders to the former Defense and Foreign Ministers of Eritrea, in exile after being caught working with the Ethiopia during its invasion of Eritrea in June 2000.
A few weeks before 9-11, a core group of supporters of the AENF held a not-so-secret meeting outside of Washington, D.C. The meeting's agenda included a report on continuing “co-ordination with the AENF,” activities they continue to this day in Washington, D.C., and in other major U.S. cities.
The AENF honchos travel freely between Sudan and the western capitals, rallying small bands of followers in North America and Europe. They operate web sites ranging from low-key fronts like Asmarino.com to the official web site of the Eritrean Islamic Jihad at www.eij.org.
The AENF receives valuable cover from left-wing “human rights groups” like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International’s UK office. At HRW they can count on Washington, D.C., advocate Tom Malinowski, whose background includes a stint as a senior press spokesperson in the Clinton Administration under Tony Lake.
Not to be outdone, Amnesty International’s UK office has given a human rights award to an Eritrean exile who writes for a jihadist-linked website, Eritrea1.org.
Amnesty International UK office, in their only public statements on the jihadist link to the Eritrean exile award winner, cited his denial of any such links. But a close inspection of the “manifiesto” for Eritrea on the AENF web site he writes for uncovers a program for Eritrea that includes restricting female rights, making Arabic an official language and membership for Eritrea in the Arab League, part and parcel of the program of the Eritrean Islamic Jihad.
The activities of AENF have not gone unnoticed, at least not in the Eritrean communities abroad, which have overwhelmingly shunned their meetings. After watching the AENF give all Eritreans a bad name for the year following 9-11, more than 1,500 angry Eritrean Americans demonstrated in front of the State Department offices in Washington, D.C., calling for some action.
Prominent Eritrean American academics, physicians and business leaders presented a petition addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell, calling for the U.S. government to end its tolerance for these terrorist groups. A year later, the AENF continues to operate freely.
Few in the West noticed when the Eritrean Islamic Jihad sent one of their death squads in Sudan across the Eritrean border to literally slit the throat of a prominent British mining engineer a few months ago.
Even fewer noted the international council of over 66 jihadists groups that met in Khartoum, Sudan in January of this year. But then it seems to have slipped under the western media’s radar that al-Qaeda has been openly operating offices in Sudan since 9-11, supported by the jihadist, National Islamic Front of Pres. Bashir. Of course, support for terrorism is nothing new for Sudan¹s NIF, who hosted Carlos the Jackal long before Osama bin Laden.
As Khartoum continues as Grand Central Station for Jihadists, Inc. only tiny, drought-stricken Eritrea continues to raise the alarm. But then Eritrea has been calling for action against al-Qaeda since Bin Laden arrived in Sudan in the early 1990’s, intent on making newly independent and half Muslim Eritrea an Islamic regime.
At this point, you would be only sane to ask: how is this allowed to go on? Can it be real, that al-Qaeda front groups are being allowed to operate openly in western capitals, to walk the streets of Washington DC in this day and age of the Patriot Act?
Thomas C. Mountain has been a political observer of the Horn of Africa since the early 1980’s. He is familiar with the main languages of the area and is married into an extended and extensive, east African family. His work has been featured in the major press and on television in east Africa, south Asia and in the Pacific Rim. He resides in Kahalu’u, Hawaii, the eastern beginnings of Oahu’s legendary North Shore.