Country Report on Terrorism 2020 - Chapter 1 - Ethiopia


Overview: The Government of Ethiopia (GOE) continued to be a willing and active partner with the U.S. government on CT issues. The GOE passed significant amendments to the 2009 Antiterrorism Proclamation (ATP) that, inter alia, criminalizes certain terrorism-related offenses. The al-Shabaab and ISIS terrorist threats emanating from Somalia remain a high priority for the Ethiopian National Defense Force. Armed groups espousing ethnonationalist causes, primarily the Oromo Liberation Army-Shane (OLA-Shane), were the greatest and most persistent domestic threats.

During and after this reporting period, the United States has continually called for the immediate removal of Eritrean and Amhara regional security forces from Tigray, for an immediate end to hostilities by all parties, immediate action by all sides to facilitate unhindered humanitarian assistance to Tigray, and political reconciliation to achieve lasting peace and stability.  The United States also has encouraged the Ethiopian government to facilitate full and independent investigations into all allegations of human rights abuses to hold those responsible accountable.

2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist incidents in Ethiopia in 2020.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The GOE undertook many important legal reforms, including changes to laws governing, defining, and regulating CT activities. The GOE amended its 2009 ATP, which provided for the prosecution of certain crimes associated with terrorist activity, which was often broadly interpreted to include anti-government speech and political activity. As amended, the law prohibits warrantless searches and interception of private communications, no longer allows the police unlimited power to detain suspects, instructs the court to prioritize terrorism-related cases, and establishes the National Antiterrorism Coordinating Committee. However, adherence to the amended law remains inconsistent. Some human rights groups have criticized the GOE for not applying it fully in practice.

There were several high-profile arrests and criminal prosecutions brought under the ATP in 2020. In some cases, the courts ruled against the GOE, dismissing criminal complaints altogether or granting outright bail to defendants.

Ethiopian aviation security made some improvements to passenger and cargo security in 2020; however, lack of an effective access control system has created a potential vulnerability. Use of advanced imaging technology at the central screening checkpoint has enhanced passenger security. The insertion of biometric controlled access has enhanced cargo security, even though the system is not yet fully installed. The completion of a planned airport-wide automated access control system will greatly reduce insider risk. Owing to COVID travel restrictions, Bole International Airport is overdue for both an aviation security assessment and an air carrier inspection. Completing these in 2021 is a priority for the Transportation Security Administration.

Border security was a persistent concern for the GOE, and the government worked to tighten border controls with Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan. To that end, Ethiopia employed the PISCES border control system at several ports of entry.

The GOE arrested more than a dozen ISIS and AS members in November. The government has accused several ethnonationalist groups, some of which it charged with violating its ATP, of making ethnic-based attacks intended to foment ethnic conflict. The June assassination of a popular Oromo nationalist singer, allegedly organized by OLA-Shane, sparked violent protests that resulted in more than 180 deaths and millions of dollars in property damage across Oromia Region.

Since November the Government of Ethiopia has been engaged in a protracted military conflict with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the former governing party of the Tigray Region.  The government deemed a TPLF attack on Ethiopia military forces as a domestic terrorism incident and launched a military/law enforcement offensive in response.  The TPLF asserted that its actions were self-defense in the face of planned Ethiopian government action to remove it from provincial government.  Since the conflict erupted, the Ethiopian government has sought and received military assistance both from the State of Eritrea and from security forces under the control of the Amhara regional government.  There were credible reports implicating all parties to the conflict in human rights abuses and pointing to atrocities committed by Amhara regional security forces, Ethiopian military forces, and the Eritrean military.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: No significant updates from 2019. Ethiopia is a member of ESAAMLG, and Ethiopia’s FIU, the Ethiopian Financial Intelligence Centre, is a member of the Egmont Group.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Ministry of Peace is the GOE’s lead on CVE, a priority for PM Abiy’s government given the threat from al-Shabaab. The GOE’s strategy focuses on reducing poverty and ethnic strife to eliminate factors that help al-Shabaab recruitment. The GOE remains engaged in local mediation and conflict mitigation strategies to defuse ethnic and religious tensions, especially in the Afar, Oromia, and Somali Regions. The GOE monitored violent extremist activities, particularly among the large Muslim youth population and given the significant economic migration of Ethiopians to the Middle East. Some economic migrants return as converts to Islam or as more radicalized adherents. The GOE also continues to work on formulating a national CVE strategy.

International and Regional Cooperation: U.S. engagement with the GOE concentrated on resolving the crisis in the Tigray Region and combating terrorist threats, particularly those posed by al-Shabaab and violent extremist organizations associated with ISIS, thereby reducing the direct military role the United States might otherwise play. The United States provides material, logistical, and training support to Ethiopia, which is the world’s largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, including about 6,220 troops mainly in South Sudan and Sudan.

The GOE participated in African Union-led CT efforts as one of the largest troop-contributing countries to the AU Mission in Somalia, with more than 5,000 troops deployed under the AU mandate and a bilateral agreement with the Government of Somalia. Ethiopia participates in IGAD and its CT programs and trainings, including the IGAD Security Sector Program, which builds regional capacity to mitigate, detect, and deter terrorist activity. In multilateral efforts against terrorism, the GOE generally supports international directives that seek to stem terrorism. IGAD, recognizing that terrorism is a multinational issue, continued to encourage the cross-border dissemination of information concerning terrorist activity.