Friday, February 23, 2024

Hamas and Iran in Nigeria; Turkey Capitalizes on Horn of Africa Tensions

Africa File, February 23, 2024

Author: Liam Karr

Data Cutoff: February 23, 2024, at 10:00 a.m.

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CTP is rebranding the Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update and its related special updates to be named the Africa File starting today, February 23, 2024. The name “Africa File” better reflects the updates’ Africa-centric nature in recent months. “Africa File” also better reflects CTP’s efforts in recent months to cover a wider range of national security interests on the African continent in addition to the Salafi-jihadi movement.

The Africa File will provide weekly analysis and assessments of state and non-state actors’ activities in Africa that threaten US personnel and the numerous US national security interests on the continent. US national security interests in Africa include preventing adversaries from using Africa as a base to launch attacks or evade sanctions, ensuring access to strategic minerals and economic markets that are crucial to US supply chains, working with partners to manage potentially destabilizing migration flows to Europe and the US, disrupting transnational crime networks that support illicit markets worldwide, and promoting democracy to prevent the spread of anti-Western authoritarianism. Prominent actors on the African continent that threaten these interests include state powers such as China, Iran, and Russia, as well as non-state groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda. The Africa File distills open-source information to assess these actors’ campaigns and related security and political issues in Africa that could affect their efforts. Irregular editions may be published based on current events.

Key Takeaways:

  • Nigeria. A Hamas delegation visited Nigeria in February, expanding the group’s diplomatic outreach to friendly African countries to increase its international support. The visit follows a long history of Iranian-backed engagement in Africa’s most populous country. Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) have been active in Nigeria since at least 2010 to increase Iran’s economic and diplomatic clout in line with Iran’s broader “resistance” strategy to erode Western influence on the continent. Iran has also used covert networks in Nigeria and across Africa to create attack threats to Western personnel and interests on the continent as a form of horizontal escalation. Iran’s current focus on the Middle East makes it unlikely to attack Israeli or US targets in Africa, but Iran may choose to try horizontal escalation on the continent in the future.
  • Somalia. Somalia and Turkey signed an economic and military agreement that Somalia likely intends to use to deter the implementation of the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal. The Somalia-Turkey agreement is a significant economic and geopolitical gain for Turkey, as it will increase Turkey’s long-term influence in vital waterways such as the Bab el Mandeb Strait and present lucrative economic opportunities in Somalia’s exclusive economic zone if Turkey pursues development projects. The Somalia-Turkey agreement will likely increase both countries’ tensions with Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially if the agreement includes stipulations on combatting the Ethiopia-Somaliland port.



Hamas sent a delegation to Nigeria in February, expanding the group’s diplomatic outreach to friendly African countries to increase international support. A senior Hamas delegation concluded a four-day visit with Nigerian officials and civil society members on February 15.[1] The delegation included the group’s spokesperson, foreign relations head, and former deputy foreign minister.[2] Hamas said the delegation updated stakeholders on the situation in Gaza, general political developments, and Hamas’s positions and praised Nigeria for its position on standing with Palestine and Hamas.[3] Iranian state media republished Hamas’s announcement.[4]

The Nigerian government has been pushing for de-escalation and a ceasefire since the October 7 attacks and the beginning of Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip.[5] The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League also chose Nigeria as the sub-Saharan special delegate to the Arab-Islamic summit in November 2023 and the accompanying special delegation that met with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) officials to broker a ceasefire.[6] Nigeria’s stance reflects strong pro-Palestinian sentiment among Nigeria’s diverse religious population, which has led to large demonstrations.[7]

The Nigerian Iranian-backed Shi’a group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) has been an outspoken advocate of Palestine and Hamas in Nigeria. Nigerian authorities report that the IMN has about 60,000 registered members, while the group claims there are five to 10 million members—more than the estimated four million Shi’ites in Nigeria—who are mostly concentrated in the north.[8] The group’s leader voiced support for Palestine and Hamas alongside Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei when visiting Tehran in October 2023.[9] IMN supporters organized mass pro-Palestinian protests in northern Nigeria shortly following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.[10] The group’s leader also said that Palestinians are fighting for the liberation of “every Muslim” and symbolize the way in which the oppressed of the world need to resist during a January interview with the Iranian regime’s English language outlet Press TV.[11]

Hamas officials have traveled to South Africa and Egypt to rally international support and advance ceasefire talks since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas War. A Hamas delegation traveled to South Africa for a commemoration of the birthday of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who was a vocal supporter of Palestine, in December 2023.[12] South Africa has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip, has maintained ties with Hamas officials, and brought a genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice in January 2024.[13] Hamas has also sent officials to Egypt multiple times since October 2023 to participate in ongoing ceasefire and hostage discussions.[14]

The Hamas visit follows a long history of Iranian-backed engagement in Nigeria, where Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah have been active since at least 2010. Lebanese diaspora populations and decades of soft-power proselytizing efforts have grown Nigeria’s Shi’ite minority, and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) exploits this population for its illicit activities.[15] LH’s Foreign Relations Department and Business Affairs Component had networks in Nigeria that the US Treasury sanctioned in 2015 for “scout[ing] recruits for Hezbollah’s military units, as well as . . . creat[ing] and support[ing] Hezbollah’s terrorist infrastructure for its operational units in Africa and globally.”[16] Nigerian officials caught suspected Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps–Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and LH operatives smuggling weapons into Nigeria in 2010 and 2013.[17] Iran also controls the Hausa-language Hausa TV radio and TV platform, which it has used to run information operations supporting its interests in Nigeria.[18]

Iran and LH also have direct ties to the IMN. The IMN’s leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, founded the group in the early 1980s after being inspired by the Iranian revolution and studying in Iran.[19] The group rejects the Nigerian government’s authority in favor of an Iranian-style theocracy.[20] The government banned the group in 2019 for threatening the state.[21] The IMN has also orchestrated numerous mass protests, which has helped multiply its political influence and led to several military crackdowns on its followers.[22]

LH and the Iranian regime have provided financial, military, and political support to the IMN. The Middle East Institute reported in 2019 that LH was providing ideological and military training to IMN members in Lebanon.[23] This assistance has helped the IMN replicate some of LH’s media, recruitment, and social welfare models in Nigeria.[24] Zakzaky visited Lebanon in 2015 and did an interview with LH-owned and -operated al Manar TV during the trip.[25] A former US State Department official estimated in 2017 that the group received approximately $120,000 per year from Iran.[26] Zakzaky also has an office in Mashhad, Iran; has done numerous TV interviews with Iranian regime–affiliated outlets; and met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran in mid-October 2023.[27]

Zakzaky has also espoused anti-American rhetoric in line with the Iranian regime’s framing. He accused the United States of compelling other countries to support Israel and allow US military bases in Africa during his January interview.[28] Zakzaky also echoed the Iranian regime’s praise of the recent coups and actions by the juntas in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger as anti-colonial uprisings against the West.[29] These statements continue a long-standing trend of Zakzaky parroting the Iranian regime’s framing of the US in regime-affiliated outlets.[30]

Iranian activity in Nigeria and across Africa aims to increase Iran’s economic and diplomatic clout as part of the regime’s revisionist “resistance” strategy to erode Western influence worldwide. Iran is advancing a global resistance strategy through which it seeks to secure partnerships that offset the West’s diplomatic and economic isolation of Iran. The Iranian regime sees resistance as a counterbalancing strategy against the geopolitical structure of international relations.[31] It views the United States as enforcing the geopolitical structure and posing an existential threat to the Islamic Republic.[32] Iran’s resistance politics have led most notably to its group of Middle East proxies called the Axis of Resistance, but the regime has emphasized that this approach is not limited to the Middle East and should be expanded to Africa to increase pressure on the United States and the West.[33]

Iran has sought to boost economic ties with African countries since Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office in 2021 as part of his “neighborhood policy.”[34] This policy aims to grow economic ties with non-Western partners to undermine Western sanctions and enable Iran to de-emphasize rapprochement with the West.[35] Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy, according to the latest World Bank statistics from 2022, and is already Iran’s third-largest trading partner in Africa.[36]

Iran also seeks to strengthen diplomatic ties with African countries to undermine Western efforts to politically isolate Iran and other revisionist states in institutions like the United Nations.[37] Nigeria is a leader on the continent and has long campaigned for a permanent African seat in the UNSC due to its size, economy, and participation in peacekeeping missions.[38] Numerous international leaders, including US President Joe Biden, have voiced their support for reforming the UNSC and adding permanent seats for Africa and other underrepresented regions.[39] Nigeria’s leading role among sub-Saharan countries pursuing a ceasefire since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war underscores its current diplomatic sway in international relations regardless of any future UNSC membership.

Iran has attempted to use its covert apparatus to attack US and Western personnel and interests in Nigeria and across Africa as a form of horizontal escalation multiple times over the past decade. Kenyan and Nigerian officials claimed to disrupt plots backed by the IRGC-QF and LH in 2013 that aimed to attack British, Israeli, Saudi, and US targets in both African countries as the US tightened sanctions on the Iranian regime.[40] One of the Nigerian cells had conducted surveillance on the United States Agency for International Development, the Peace Corps, and hotels frequented by Americans and Israelis in Lagos.[41]

Iran surged attack plots between 2019 and 2022. Anonymous Western intelligence officials told the Telegraph in June 2019 that former IRGC-QF Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had organized attack cells in the Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, and Sudan to attack Western targets in response to new US sanctions.[42] US intelligence exposed a potential Iranian plot to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa in 2020 in retaliation for the US assassination of Soleimani.[43] Security forces also thwarted IRGC-QF-backed plots against Israeli tourists and Jewish centers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and Tanzania in 2021 and US targets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2022.[44] The repeated failure of Iranian-backed attacks increases the likelihood of adaptation and future success.[45]

Figure 1. Iran-Backed Attack Plots in Africa Since 2013


Source: Liam Karr.

Iran’s current focus on the Middle East makes it unlikely to carry out imminent attacks against Israeli or US targets in Africa, but Iran may choose to try horizontal escalation on the continent in the future. Iranian-backed proxies across the Middle East have increased operations against American, Israeli, and international targets across the region since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.[46] These are the same kinds of targets Iran has tried to attack in its Africa attack plots. Iran’s plot targeting the US ambassador in South Africa after the US killing of Soleimani, as well as other Iranian plots, also shows it views Africa as a battleground for horizontal escalation in response to developments in the Middle East.[47] There is no evidence of active Iranian plots in Africa since October 2023, however, and Iran appears focused on capitalizing on the Israel-Hamas war to advance higher-priority objectives in the Middle East instead of horizontally escalating elsewhere.[48] Iran’s Middle East proxies also have significantly greater capabilities, internal motivations, and domestic popular support than IRGC-QF-backed attack cells in Africa have.


Somalia and Turkey signed an economic and naval deal that Somalia likely intends to deter an Ethiopian port in Somaliland as regional tensions over the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal have continued to simmer. Somali officials and media say the agreement authorized Turkey to build, train, and equip the Somali navy and deploy ships to combat illegal activity and remove “any external violations or threats” to Somalia’s coast in exchange for Turkey receiving 30 percent of the revenue from the Somali exclusive economic zone.[49] The Somali and Turkish ministers of defense signed the deal on February 8, and the Somali government approved the agreement on February 21.[50]

Regional tensions over a port deal between Ethiopia and the de facto independent Somaliland Republic have continued to simmer in recent weeks. Ethiopia and Somaliland announced at the beginning of January that they had signed a deal that would grant Ethiopia land in Somaliland for a naval base in return for recognizing Somaliland’s independence.[51] The Somali Federal Government (SFG) has repeatedly claimed the deal violates its sovereignty.[52] The Somali president more recently accused Ethiopian security forces of barring him and his security detail from leaving his hotel to attend the African Union (AU) Summit on February 17, while Ethiopia claimed the Somali president had denied a security detail assigned to him.[53] The Somali president eventually arrived at the AU headquarters with the Djiboutian president’s security team and gave a speech in which he accused Ethiopia of wanting to “annex part of Somalia.”[54] Unknown actors in Somaliland also attempted to disrupt Mogadishu’s control of Somali airspace by issuing conflicting air traffic control directions near Somaliland’s capital at least 10 times on the weekend of February 17.[55]

Somalia likely wants the Somalia-Turkey agreement to deter Ethiopia and Somaliland from implementing the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal.[56] The SFG has repeatedly threatened to retaliate if Ethiopia and Somaliland implement the deal but does not have the capacity to do so itself.[57] Turkey has been one of Somalia’s primary economic and security partners since 2011 and already has a military base in Mogadishu.[58] However, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud denied the agreement is related to the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal.[59]

The Somalia-Turkey naval agreement is a major economic and geopolitical gain for Turkey but could increase tensions between Turkey and Ethiopia. The deal will increase Turkish and pro-Turkish naval presence near critical waterways off the Somali coast, such as the Bab el Mandeb Strait, allowing Turkey to increase its geopolitical influence in the region. The Turkish navy is already present in the Red Sea as part of UN anti-piracy efforts but is branding the Somali naval deal as another way it can combat piracy, illegal fishing, and other issues.[60] Turkey’s 30 percent stake in the Somali exclusive economic zone holds significant economic potential if Turkey can help develop Somalia’s “blue economy,” which refers to economic activities in the ocean and coastal areas, including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, shipping, and offshore oil and gas extraction.[61] This includes potentially 30 billion barrels of undeveloped gas and oil deposits.[62]

The Somalia-Turkey deal and its implications could threaten multiple Ethiopian aims in the region. The Turkish navy could to disrupt any implementation of the Ethiopian-Somaliland port deal under the rationale of protecting Somalia’s sovereignty as Turkey has explicitly condemned the deal as violating Somalia’s sovereignty.[63] Turkey has already explicitly condemned the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal as violating Somalia’s sovereignty.[64] Disrupting its implementation would jeopardize Ethiopia’s plans to gain Red Sea access, which the Ethiopian prime minister repeatedly described as an existential issue in July and October 2023.[65] Egypt has also vocally supported the SFG, which fits a growing trend of Egyptian-Turkish alignment since 2022 that threatens Ethiopia’s position in negotiations on its hydroelectric Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by removing Turkey as a staunch anti-Egypt ally.[66]

It is unclear whether Turkey agreed to disrupt a potential Ethiopian port in Somaliland, which would put Turkey’s significant economic investments in Ethiopia at risk. Turkish officials did not clarify any details until February 22, when a Turkish defense official said the agreement aims to combat “illegal and irregular activities in its [Somalia’s] territorial waters.”[67] This vague language applies to non-state threats such as piracy, illegal fishing, and weapon smuggling, which could exempt Turkey from an obligation to confront the Ethiopia-Somaliland port.[68] Turkey is the second-largest foreign investor in Ethiopia and invested $2.5 billion in projects in the country by the end of 2021.[69] Turkey also provided TB2 Bayraktar drones to the Ethiopian government during the Tigray civil war.[70]

The Somalia-Turkey naval agreement will likely also increase both countries’ tensions with the UAE. The agreement indirectly comes at the expense of the UAE, which is a primary backer of Ethiopia and is competing with Turkey for influence in Somalia. Ethiopia has invested billions into Ethiopia since 2018 and also sent arms during the Tigray war.[71] CTP previously assessed that this strong relationship meant that an Ethiopian port would strengthen the UAE’s position vis-à-vis other middle powers competing for spheres of influence in the Horn of Africa.[72] The UAE also has significant security ties with Somalia, where it helps train and provide salaries for thousands of Somali soldiers to combat al Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, al Shabaab.[73] Al Shabaab killed at least four Emirati trainers in an attack on February 10.[74]

Turkey and the UAE have been rivals for over the last decade as they competed to both consolidate internal support and expand their regional influence. Turkey pursued this by backing Islamist actors in the Middle East and North Africa after the Arab Spring, while the UAE viewed Islamist movements as a security threat to their dynastic rule and an avenue for increased Turkish encroachment in the region.[75] This rivalry led the countries to take opposing sides on issues such as the Libyan civil war and the Qatar-Gulf dispute, although they have increased diplomatic and economic cooperation since 2021.[76]

Al Shabaab condemned the agreement despite its anti-Ethiopian viewpoint due to Turkey’s role in supporting counterterrorism operations against the group and its strong nationalist sentiments. Al Shabaab declared the Somalia-Turkey deal “null and void” and directly compared it to the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal—which it also condemned—saying it is “a violation similar to, if not greater than” the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal.[77] CTP previously assessed that the group would use the increase in anti-Ethiopian sentiment to boost funding and recruitment, but anti-Turkish sentiment is likely less salient among most Somalis due to Somalia and Turkey’s shared Muslim identity and the historical rivalry between Ethiopia and Somalia.[78]

Turkey trains a Somali special forces unit at its base in Mogadishu and in Turkey, and it has sold TB2 drones to the SFG, which the SFG uses against al Shabaab.[79] Al Shabaab has repeatedly condemned Turkey in its media publications and targeted the Turkish base, Turkish-trained units, and Turkish nationals in retaliation.[80] The group is also staunchly nationalist and rejects foreign interference in ethnically Somali areas, including parts of Ethiopia and Kenya with ethnically Somali majorities.[81]





[4] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85388192; https://www.isna dot ir/news/1402112619044

[5] https://www.premiumtimesng dot com/news/top-news/631626-israel-hamas-war-nigeria-calls-for-ceasefire-dialogue.html; https://punchng dot com/nigeria-calls-for-ceasefire-dialogue-between-israel-hamas; https://punchng dot com/nigeria-calls-for-humanitarian-ceasefire-in-israel-hamas-war

[6] https://gazettengr dot com/oic-selects-nigeria-as-special-delegate-to-halt-israel-hamas-war; https://punchng dot com/palestinian-envoy-welcomes-nigerias-inclusion-in-peace-committee; https://www.aljazeera dot com/news/2023/11/23/whats-behind-the-arab-islamic-ministerial-tour-of-unsc-states;

[7];;; https://www.vanguardngr dot com/2023/10/muslims-stage-mega-rally-for-palestine-in-lagos




[11] https://www.presstv dot ir/Detail/2024/01/08/717806/Interview-with-Sheikh-Zakzaki



[14];;; dot com/originals/2024/01/hamas-delegation-heads-cairo-talks-hostage-release-truce














[28] https://www.presstv dot ir/Detail/2024/01/08/717806/Interview-with-Sheikh-Zakzaki

[29] https://www.presstv dot ir/Detail/2024/01/08/717806/Interview-with-Sheikh-Zakzaki

[30] https://iranpress dot com/sheikh-zakzaky-us-plot-in-lt-gen-soleimani-s-case-fails; https://www.presstv dot ir/Detail/2023/08/19/709203/Sheikh-Zakzaky-warns-of-US,-French-plots-to-sow-discord-between-Nigeria,-Niger; http://english.khamenei dot ir/news/5019/Sheikh-Zakzaky-U-S-and-Israel-behind-continuing-crime-of-detention





[35]; https://www.tehrantimes dot com/news/474374/Neighborhood-policy-neutralized-U-S-sanctions;



[38] https://www.channelstv dot com/2023/10/04/its-time-for-nigeria-to-join-un-security-council-says-foreign-affairs-minister;;; https://punchng dot com/nigerias-permanent-seat-in-un-security-council






[44]; https://www.jpost dot com/international/islamic-terrorism/mossad-thwarts-iranian-attacks-on-israelis-in-africa-report-684303;





[49]; https://www.middleeasteye dot net/news/somalia-authorises-turkey-defend-its-sea-waters-deal

[50] dot com/originals/2024/02/turkey-somalia-sign-defense-deal-wake-ethiopia-somaliland-agreement; https://www.middleeasteye dot net/news/somalia-authorises-turkey-defend-its-sea-waters-deal










[60] https://www.newarab dot com/News/2020/7/19/Turkey-leads-anti-piracy-maritime-mission-in-Gulf-of-Aden



[63] dot com/originals/2024/01/fallout-somaliland-ethiopia-deal-turkey-backs-somalia-amid-rivalries

[64] dot com/originals/2024/01/fallout-somaliland-ethiopia-deal-turkey-backs-somalia-amid-rivalries

[65]; https://www.aljazeera dot com/program/inside-story/2023/7/26/how-will-landlocked-ethiopia-get-direct-access-to-a-port


[67] dot com/originals/2024/02/turkey-confirms-somalia-maritime-security-deal-amid-somaliland-tensions

[68]; dot com/originals/2024/02/turkey-confirms-somalia-maritime-security-deal-amid-somaliland-tensions


[70] https://www.aa dot;



[73] https://www.middleeasteye dot net/news/somalia-uae-egypt-recruit-train-secret-forces;




[77] SITE Intelligence Group, “Shabaab Condemns Somalia’s Agreement with Turkey as ‘Unlawful,’ Urges Somalis Join in Denouncement,” February 21, 2024, available by subscription at


[79];;; https://www.military dot africa/2022/05/turkey-is-building-a-new-deadlier-somali-army