Africa's Sahel region 'threatened by Islamist violence'

Malian Islamist militants pictured in August 2012 Militants in Mali were pushed out of northern towns last year but attacks have continued

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The growth of Islamist violence in the Sahel is threatening the stability of the entire region that runs south of Africa's Sahara Desert, a UN envoy has told the Security Council.

Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, the new UN envoy for the Sahel, said Nigeria, Libya and Mali were worst affected.

But overall "terrorist acts" in the Sahel and the Maghreb had increased by 60% in 2013, she said.

Her report said extreme poverty and unemployment were part of the problem.

People look at the wreckage of a car on 2 March  2014, after two deadly explosions in a crowded neighbourhood of Maiduguri, Nigeria Attacks in Nigeria's north-eastern Borno state have been relentless over the last year

Last year there were 230 terror incidents in the Sahel and Maghreb, Ms Sellassie, who was appointed as the UN Sahel envoy in May, said in his report which he presented to the UN Security Council on Thursday.

This was an "alarming increase" of 60% compared with 2012 - the highest annual total in the region for the past 12 years, she said.

The deterioration of the political and security situation in Libya; the political impasse and security challenges in Mali, where French and African troops ousted Islamist militants from northern towns last year; and increasing attacks and kidnappings by Nigeria's Boko Haram militants continued affect civilians and local economies, the report says.

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Analysis: Mark Doyle, international development correspondent

For most people, the extremism highlighted in this report is hidden until something spectacular happens. Reporters like myself take some responsibility for this. I only went to Mali, for example, when the French army dramatically expelled violent Islamists from the northern towns in early 2013; when I visit Nigeria, it is invariably for a Boko Haram crisis.

But the slow-burning background factors that can feed extremism are there all the time. Chronic unemployment makes young men particularly vulnerable to radicalisation, the UN report says.

It is estimated that across west and north Africa, only about 30% of people have access to modern courtrooms - and so the possibility of justice if they are wronged.

The report also says, extraordinarily, that only a little over a half of all children in the region are officially registered as having been born - surely the most basic prerequisite to becoming a participating citizen.

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The increase in violence has coincided with a UN plan to tackle insecurity and underdevelopment in the region - called the Integrated UN Strategy for the Sahel - that began two years ago.

Unemployed young men were particularly vulnerable to religious radicalisation, Ms Sellassie said.

"Organised criminal groups take advantage of the vast and porous borders of the countries of the region, making effective patrolling extremely difficult," the report said.

Map showing where militant groups are based

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