A View from the CT Foxhole: Idriss Mounir Lallali, Deputy Director, African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT).

AuthorWarner, Jason

Idriss Mounir Lallali is the Deputy Director and Acting (Interim) Director of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT) and was part of the multidisciplinary team designated by the African Union to launch the Centre. Among his primary responsibilities are leading the design and development of the Centre's Counter-Terrorism Early Warning System and managing a team of analysts who conduct policy analysis, studies, synthesis, and audits on terrorism in Africa. He previously provided assistance to consultants appointed by the A.U. to the African Anti-Terrorist Model Law, managed the Focal Point Community Database, and led the Monitoring Process of ratification of the African and Universal Counterterrorism Instruments. Mr. Lallali currently also leads a team of experts who evaluate the counterterrorism capacity of African Union member states.

CTC: Can you to tell us a little bit about ACSRT and your position there? What does ACSRT do, and how does it fit into the broader African Union Peace and Security Architecture?

Lallali: I'm the Acting Director of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism, which has its headquarters in Algiers, Algeria. I've been working at ACSRT (a) for over 17 years. I was head of Analysis Unit--Alert and Prevention Unit--for 10 years, and I think I still have that analyst mindset in the back of my mind, even if more recently I've been in managerial positions.

ACSRT was established on October 13, 2004, out of necessity, I would say, as a result of the emergence of the threat on the African continent. The A.U. [African Union] had as early as 1999 developed its counterterrorism framework, translated into the 1999 Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, commonly known as the Algiers Convention since it was adopted in Algiers. (1) This was followed by the 2002 Plan of Action for the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, (2) followed by the 2004 Protocol to the 1999 Convention3 that came to address some of the inherent weaknesses of the Convention and their impact on its implementation. (b) These were the first major documents and decisions regarding terrorism that were compiled into legal instruments by the A.U. member states. Member states adopted them, ratified them, and they now guide our work.

Already in 2002, we could read between the lines that there was a need for the A.U. to take the lead and create a coordinating structure when it comes to preventing and combating terrorism. And when you look at the Plan of Action of 2002, you will realize that this was indeed a foundation upon which ACSRT was laid.

ACSRT's main missions are collecting and centralizing information related to terrorism in Africa, analyzing trends to inform A.U. and member state decisions and actions, building the prevention and combating of terrorism capacity of A.U. member states, and assisting member states in implementing their international counterterrorism obligations--namely, the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, international standards and norms, and so on.

How do we do that? ACSRT has three fundamental units. The first unit is the Alert and Prevention Unit. The second is the Database and Documentation Unit. The third is the Training and Equipment Unit. The first and second units form what we call the Continental Early Warning System [CEWS] on CT. This works to provide continuous threat assessment and analysis on terrorism and violent extremism in Africa. It also works to assess the capacity and readiness of member states and to identify CT gaps and technical/operational capacity needs.

CTC: So the Continental Terrorism Early Warning System (CTEWS) is based at ACSRT.

Lallali: Yes, ACSRT is the technical arm of the A.U. on CT-related matters, including CT capacity-building and policy orientation. The Centre is basically the one-stop shop for anything that deals with CT and violent extremism on the African continent. In this regard and in implementation of our mandate of, inter alia, enhancing information sharing and dissemination between the Centre and the A.U., but also between and with A.U. member states and regions, we established what we commonly call the ACSRT-CT Early Warning System (CTEWS), which is operational 24/7 and is in continued and permanent liaison and contact with National and Regional Focal Points. These are the interlocutors that have been officially designated by their member states and regions to liaise with ACSRT. They are the point of entry and exit of all information exchange between ACSRT and the African Union member states and regions. When I say regions, I have to also indicate that the idea of a region has developed from Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to also now encompass Regional Mechanisms (RMs). (c) As the threat evolved on the continent, the creation of new security mechanisms and initiatives has required us to go beyond the RECs and to look at the RMs as part of our Focal Point community.

The Focal Point corresponds to a particular institution or lead agency working on counterterrorism, and within which you will have a desk officer or a contact person that will allow us not only to request terrorism or CT-related information but also to disseminate information and early warning products emanating from us to the relevant stakeholders at the level of our member states and regions. As you can imagine, with the development of the threat, we realized that even the concept of Focal Points and its roles and responsibilities (as stipulated in the Code of Conducting Regulating the Relationship between the Focal Point and the ACSRT), had to evolve to integrate the many criminal activities that were linked to terrorism that needed to be embedded in that structure. In that respect, we started promoting and encouraging member states to establish national CT fusion centers, bringing under one roof all actors that have a role to play in CT, including financial intelligence units, which until now in many of our member states were not considered part of the national intelligence community. As a matter of fact, in collaboration with the U.N. Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and the U.N. Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), we are assisting several countries in developing their national fusion centers, including Mozambique, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Botswana. Many other countries have since expressed the wish to get assistance in developing their fusion centers, including regions such as SADC, (d) who we are assisting in establishing their regional CT center.

Indeed, from a regional perceptive, in Africa we have two fusion centers which are already operational: L'Unite de Liaison de Fusion (UFL)--Sahel, which is based near the ACSRT office in Algiers, and the East Africa Fusion and Liaison Unit (EA-FLU), which is based in Kampala, Uganda. Both have clearly demonstrated the importance of such structures in enhancing regional CT cooperation and coordination.

CTC: Groups aligned with al-Qa'ida and the Islamic State are present in many parts of Africa. What is your assessment of the evolving threat they pose?

Lallali: When I look at al-Qaida and I look at the Islamic State, they are two faces of the same coin. They have the same objectives. But they don't agree on how to implement their agendas: one is looking towards the long term--this is the al-Qaida folks and their veterans--while the other, namely the Islamic State, is much more focused on the short term, in tune with the fast-paced and tech-savvy Generation Z; they are as fast as the internet...

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