Dr Sara Ollo, the study’s principle investigator, described the research as paving the path to a brave new era in the War on Terror. “We now know for sure that where there’s oil, there’s Al,” she said. “Al Qaeda in the Sahara, al Shabaab in East Africa, and I’ll be damned if al Legations don’t surface soon in other oil-rich zones.”
This is due to what Ollo and her team have termed “geo-neuropsychology”: a complex linkage between oil-related geological activity underground and electro-magnetic waves in the atmosphere. The resulting shifts in atmospheric energy that occur in the proximity of oil affect the cerebral cortex of the human brain, making exposed populations more likely to become Islamic extremists.
These findings have critical implications for the future of global security. “Moving forward,” explained Dr Ollo, “this research will enable us to predict areas where Islamic extremism is likely to break out and necessitate military intervention from the US and its allies, who remain committed to combatting terrorism everywhere.”
While human rights violations and religious fundamentalism are rife across the world, including on the African continent where the study was focused, most of them do not elicit international military intervention. “When conducting this research, we were not interested in just any old bad guys,” stressed Ollo. “For that, you might as well gate-crash a UN General Assembly meeting. No, we needed to understand the bad guys who are of specific interest to the War on Terror, which is the topmost priority in the world today. We wanted to know – what turns a regular bad guy into an Islamic extremist? Who’s got the X factor? What is the X factor?”
War on terror
The study analysed trends in Islamic extremism in Africa over the past two years, with the aim of identifying common variables that could be used to build a predictive algorithm for the War on Terror. “We hadn’t even considered oil as a variable of possible significance,” Dr Ollo mused. “I mean, what could the ancient metamorphosis of prehistoric marine life into the world’s most precious fuel possibly have to do with the present-day metamorphosis of religion into terrorism?”
Researchers began by examining a wide range of economic and social variables in Islamic extremist hotspots of major international interest. “It was quite frustrating at first,” says Dr Ollo, “Because no obvious similarities presented themselves. Take Mali and Somalia, which are currently at the top of the War on Terror’s agenda for Africa. The two countries are on opposite sides of the continent – and apart from being home to world-renowned musicians, their stories are strikingly different.”
For more than two decades now, Somalia has been in the throes of a violent internal conflict, which earned it the unofficial title of most dangerous place on earth. Mali on the other hand, prior to a military coup earlier this year, was for two decades regarded as one of the most stable democracies on the continent. One obvious parallel is that Islam is a major religion in both places. But then again, the same could be said for many other countries in Africa, where 52% of the population is Muslim – a higher proportion than in any other continent.
After months of futile searching for the X-tremist factor, the researchers were at their wits end. But then, in what they refer to as the “game-changing moment”, Dr Kenny Langa-Smith stumbled across a map of Mali from the website of African Oil Corp – one of the international oil companies with exploration stakes in Mali. Langa-Smith’s face lights up, and his tone gets increasingly animated, as he walks us through the thought process that led him to the Eureka moment.
“So I’m looking at this map of Mali and I see the capital city, Bamako, and three other places: Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao…naturally, I assume it’s a mapping of terrorist activity, since these are the places are being targeted in the military intervention against AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb].”
Under pressure from the US and the EU to respond to the terrorist threat posed by AQIM, West African countries have developed an invasion plan to reclaim the North of Mali from Islamic extremists. The plan will be implemented in the coming few months – despite reiterations by Islamic group Ansar Dine, which controls much of Northern Mali, that they denounce extremism and are open to diplomatic negotiations. African soldiers will be on the ground in the line of fire; while Western countries will provide support through their air forces, drones from Afghanistan and military training.
“But as I take a closer look at the map,” continued Langa-Smith, “I realise – wait a second, this has nothing to do with the upcoming war on Islamic extremism. This map is about oil exploration blocks – it’s only that hotspots of terror also happen to be hotspots of oil and gas. And I’m thinking back on Libya, and I start getting this crazy idea, I’m wondering, could there be a link between oil and terror?”
The researchers were “more than a little sceptical” about this hypothesis. But with no other leads to follow, they decided to test it out in East Africa – where Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia are waging war on the Somalia-based Islamic extremist group al Shabaab. The war is being waged in collaboration with the transitional government of Somalia – which, following years of tension, is now forming increasingly warm ties with Western governments. A few months ago, Kenya approached the US for support in launching an intensified military assault on the Somali port town of Kismayo, which is al Shabaab’s last standing stronghold. “Kismayo’s got the al for sure,” Langa-Smith said, “and I’ll give you one guess what else it has.”
In the coastal waters offshore from Somalia, there are thought to be vast quantities of oil and natural gas. These would add to the already-abundant inland resources of a country that is projected to have the fifth-largest reserves of petroleum in the world. Not far from Kismayo, Kenya has unilaterally claimed ownership of oil-rich waters that Somalia regards as its national territory, and sold exploration licences to two multinational oil companies: Eni of Italy, and Total of France. France is providing support to Kenya’s military offensive on Somalia.
Uganda and Burundi, which recently struck oil, are also embroiled in the Somali conflict. Al Shabaab militants allegedly staged a bomb attack on Kampala in 2010, killing 74 civilians. Both countries have received strong backing from the US in their fight against Islamic extremism in Somalia, most notably through a US$45 million aid package that included a supply of drones. According to Wikileaks, another oil hotspot in the region, Ethiopia, was diplomatically coerced by the US to invade Somalia several years ago, behind a media-generated smokescreen of the threat posed by Islamic jihadists.
Time Magazine earlier this year described the US’ behind-the-scenes efforts in East Africa as an attempt to avoid scrutiny following the unsavoury track record of the first decade of the American War on Terror. And even before the War on Terror was the disastrous “Black Hawk Down” US military campaign against Somalia in the 1990s, which resulted in tremendous loss on both sides. It also gave rise to the criticism that the US was “merely seeking a humanitarian cover for its real intentions of safeguarding the interests of US oil companies that were active in Somalia during the 1980s”.
“As we combed through this evidence,” said Langa-Smith, “an unmistakeable pattern began to form: the African countries who were most involved in the War on Terror were also, somehow, linked to oil. Further west, we examined Nigeria, another hotspot for Islamic extremism in which the US has suggested military action – and also, one of the region’s oil giants. The pattern persisted. Al. Oil. Al. Oil. Al Oil. By this point, the question changed from ‘is terrorism linked to oil’, but rather – what is their relationship?”
The scientists then began exploring possible explanations. “The first thing you want to understand, once you have established a correlation, is causality. Does terror cause oil, or does oil cause terror?” asked Ollo. “In this case, oil was clearly here first – so that answered the first question, but raised an even more difficult one – how does oil cause terror?”
In what is probably the most remarkable component of the study, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers sponsored by the Central Infernal Agency (CIA) discovered a complex process by which seismic characteristics of oil-rich areas cause electro-magnetic atmospheric agitation. They further revealed that the oil-driven atmospheric shifts trigger over-secretion of certain neurochemicals in the human brain, which in turn pre-dispose people to religious fanaticism and violence, which leads to Islamic extremism, which necessitates war in order to gain peace.
“The details are complicated,” said Ollo. “They are also classified. So I can’t tell you any more, but just trust me, this is revelatory.”
The revelation deals an embarrassing death blow to the allegations of conspiracy theorists, who have in the past picked up on anecdotal correlations between terror and oil, and interpreted them as an imperialist scheme to seize Africa’s natural resources. For example, Jeremy Keenan, a professor at the London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, published a book entitled “The Dark Sahara”, in which he presented research to support claims that the US has systematically fabricated terrorist threats in North-West Africa so as to justify launching a War on Terror – which, he says, was necessary “to create the ideological conditions for the expansion of US imperialist interests in Africa, notably the securing of US strategic natural resources”. Michel Chossudovsky, professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa, made similar claims with respect to the global landscape in his 2007 article “The Demonization of Muslims and the Battle for Oil”.
“People are so quick to paint the US as diabolical,” remarked Ollo. “Our research shows the opposite – that they have been justified in all their military actions in Africa, and perhaps even too restrained.” Based on the findings of the study, the researchers are advocating for a more pre-emptive approach to combatting Islamic extremism, which would involve the establishment of US military bases anywhere that possible reserves of oil and/or gas are spotted. “We should not waste the insights gained from our discovery of geo-neuropsychology,” the study concludes. “Since we now know that oil is the universal pre-condition for Islamic extremism, it is the responsibility of the US and its allies to strike proactively. Africa cannot fight the War on Terror alone.”
Their recommendations are likely to find a sympathetic ear in the US, where the War on Terror dominates foreign policy decisions – as, of course, does Africa. After all, as stated by Charles Snyder, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 2004, “It used to be a kind of cruel joke twenty years ago when some of us tried to pretend Africa might rise to the level of strategic interest, but thanks to the oil deposits we’re finding every day in and near Africa, I can say with a straight face 30% of our oil will come from there, and I promise you, it is a strategic interest.”