The radical Islamist fighters gather
around piles of weapons and
ammunition they’ve stolen and shout
praises to God as they shoot into the
expanse of the African desert. Those depicted in this video don’t come from long-lawless Somalia, nor from al-Qaida North Africa branch. These extremists are from Boko Haram, the Islamist group in Nigeria that turned to wide-scale violence in 2009 over local grievances and largely focused their assaults in Maiduguri, the city where the sect started.
Now, Boko Haram seems to be growing
more violent with a record number of
people killed this year and slowly
internationalizing its stance, a possible
danger for the rest of West Africa. More
than 770 people have been killed in Boko Haram attacks so far this year, according to an Associated Press count, making 2012 the worst year of violence attributed to the group.
“Weak border security as well as
corruption – and even membership of
immigration officials in Boko Haram –
could facilitate the travel of militants
between northern Mali and Nigeria,”
warned analyst Jacob Zenn in an October publication by the Combating Terrorism
Center at the U.S. Military Academy at
West Point. “The insurgency is likely to
become more diverse and complex over
time, which will limit the efficacy of
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s
government has not found an effective
response to Boko Haram, analysts say.
Making matters worse, government
soldiers in the last two months responded to Boko Haram attacks by opening fire in public places, killing dozens of civilians in two incidents. The shootings further alienated Nigeria’s Muslim population and have likely driven some toward supporting the sect, local residents say.
Boko Haram, whose name means
“Western education is sacrilege” in the
Hausa language of Nigeria’s Muslim north,grew out of a religious movement
founded by Mohammed Yusuf. The name – a moniker that stuck after Yusuf constantly used it as a refrain during his
preaching – means more than just
rejecting Western education, science and other Western beliefs. Adherents also dismiss Western-style democracy, which Nigeria embraced in 1999 after decades of military rule. While the nation’s political and business elite have grown ever richer, poverty still crushes most of those living in the north and its young have few economic or educational
opportunities. About 75 percent of the people in Nigeria’s northeast -the home
of Boko Haram – live in absolute poverty
on less than $1 a day, according to the
country’s National Bureau of Statistics.
In 2009, rioting by Boko Haram set off a
military crackdown that left 700 people
dead in Maiduguri. Army tanks destroyed
the sect’s Maiduguri mosque and Yusuf
was killed in police custody. The group
went underground,but reemerged about a year later, carrying out guerrilla-style
shootings from the back of motorbikes
and setting off small bombs.
Over time Boko Haram has grown far
more sophisticated, bombing the United
Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and launching massive, military-style assaults like one that killed at least 185 people in Kano in January. Soldiers have been deployed in the streets across northeast Nigeria but Boko Haram has repeatedly used suicide car bombers to attack churches and security posts.
The sect has said it will stop its attacks
only if the government strictly implements Shariah law and frees its
imprisoned members. Officials in Nigeria’s presidency have given
conflicting information about reaching out to the group. In August, presidential
spokesman Reuben Abati told journalists
that the government had opened “back
channel” negotiations with Boko Haram.
On Nov. 1, after a previously unknown,
self-proclaimed Boko Haram leader said the group would be willing to hold talks in Saudi Arabia, Abati again told journalists that indirect talks had begun.
However, Jonathan, in a November
interview with journalists broadcast on
state-run television and radio, denied any such talks had taken place.
“Presently government is not dialoging
with any group; there is no dialogue
between the Boko Haram and
government,” Jonathan said. “Boko
Haram is still operating under cover …
they wear (a) mask, there’s no face, so you don’t have anybody to discuss with.” Abati did not respond to requests to
clarify his earlier remarks.
The sect’s apparent leader, Abubakar
Shekau, appears to be even more hardline than Yusuf. Boko Haram has loose connections with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia’s al-Shabab, according to Western military officials and diplomats.
In April, witnesses said they saw English-speaking militants they believed came from Nigeria in northern Mali, which fell into the hands of Islamists in the wake of a March coup in Mali’s capital.
Army Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, said Monday that while Boko Haram appears focused on local issues it could become a greater worldwide threat if left unchecked. Ham said the group has already received training, money and
weaponry from al-Qaida in the Islamic
Maghreb as part of “a relationship that
goes both ways.”
“It is clear to me that Boko Haram’s
leadership aspires to broader activities
across the region, certainly to Europe,”
Ham said at George Washington
University. “As their name implies,
anything that is Western is a legitimate target in their eyes. I think it’s in our
national interest to help the Nigerians
address this problem internally before it
gets worse and the organization has an
ability to further expand their efforts.”However, Ham ruled out any U.S. military involvement and said a Nigerian military crackdown could only be used as “part of a broader strategy.”
Meanwhile, the killings and threats
continue. In a video posted last week to
an online jihadist forum, Shekau said
killing police “is permissible” and called
democracy “a disbelieving system,”while also applauding other Islamist insurgencies around the world.
“Did jihad stop? No, a thousand no’s,”
Shekau said, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. “Jihad doesn’t stop until Allah wills it to be stopped, and with the glory of Allah the almighty, oh disbelievers, oh apostates,oh hypocrites, die from your frustration.”
The Nigerian Islamists warned that they
intend to maintain their violent
campaign, ending their message with
another video showing fighters standing
beside Kalashnikov assault rifles and
bullets. A fighter fired a heavy machine gun into the distance, while another used a rifle with a scope. A group of fighters also walked through the scrub of the desert, with one carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher over his