Security experts and government officials from more than a dozen Middle East and Horn of Africa countries are meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to find ways to counter violent extremist groups.
The meeting brings together security officials and experts working on how to counter extremist messages being disseminated in the Horn of Africa.
We have seen al-Shabaab emerge to become a regional threat
The meeting, themed "Countering Violent Extremist messaging in the Greater Horn of Africa", brings together the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the U.S. Department of State and the Near East and South Asia Center for Strategic Studies.
"Over the last couple of decades the numbers of available choices for terrorists have simultaneously increased alongside the advancement of digital technology", said Ambasador Taye Atske Selassie, an official from Ethiopia's Ministry of foreign affairs, at the opening ceremony.
"We are looking specifically in countering violent extremist massaging and efforts to respond to violent extremist communication and strategic communication approach," said Benjamin P. Nickels, an expert on transnational threats and counter-terrorism.
Nickels said the Horn of Africa region is becoming shelter for violent radical groups that have become "effective in messaging campaign".
Acting director of Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Michael Garrison also noted that the region "has been a target for violent extremist actions and a hub of violent extremist messaging aimed at recruitment and radicalisation for several years".
He said recruiters in the region work at the grassroots level through charities, religious institutions, and everyday interactions to pass their messages to vulnerable populations in refugee camps, urban neighborhoods, and marginalized areas.
Besides laying roadside bombs in recent months, the Al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia has launched attacks beyond their borders in Kenya and Uganda.
Some of their operations have been carried out via information on various social media platforms.
Commander the U.S' 'Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa,' Brigadier-General Wayne Grigsby said the predominantly "terrorist threat we face— al-Qaeda and its affiliates and adherents—has continued to evolve".
"We have seen al-Shabaab emerge to become a regional threat. A wide range of operations is employed to defeat these violent extremist organisations and their propaganda," Grigsby said, pointing towards the need for more deliberation on the strategic messaging campaign to counter extremism.
For many pundits, it has been apparent that violent extremists have made effective use of the Internet and social media to advance their aims, whether through engagement, propaganda, radicalisation or recruitment.
"We have observed that the focus of counter terrorism experts has been on countering the operational use of Internet, text messaging and other electronic media used by terrorists for acts of terrorism", said Selassie.
The experts explained that emphasis on restrictive measures, such as takedowns and filtering, has not achieved the desired outcome so far.
The 60 experts from nations in or around the Horn of Africa, along with U.S. government officials, from international organisations, are expected to come out with "strategic approaches to countering violent extremist messaging in the region" on time.
"Equally important is that your deliberations focus on how to counter extremist narratives, on ways to reach out to the most vulnerable groups and individuals who can be led into the paths of radicalization and violent extremism," added Selassie.
The rest of the week-long meeting, which ends on 28 February, is being held behind closed doors.