Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau(centre) flanked by three terrorists on either side
PHOTO CREDIT: AFP
Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
Jun 25, 2013
Author: Jacob Zenn
Since Boko Haram’s first attack on Bauchi prison in September 2010, the group has adopted increasingly sophisticated tactics to advance its goal of carving out an Islamic state in some parts or all of northern Nigeria. In the lead-up to Nigerian President Goodluck
Jonathan’s inauguration in May 2011, the group employed motorcycle drive-by assassinations against religious and political leaders. In June and August 2011, it conducted vehicle suicide bombings at the Federal Police
Headquarters and UN Headquarters in Abuja. In November 2011 and January 2012, it executed coordinated attacks involving more than 100 militants and suicide bombers in urban centers such as Damaturu and Kano.
By early 2013, groups of 200-300 militants raided border towns in Borno State using pickup trucks equipped for desert fighting. Continuing on this evolution, one of Boko Haram’s latest tactics is kidnapping. Perhaps less sophisticated than other tactics, kidnapping has become one of the group’s primary funding sources, a way to extract concessions from the Nigerian state and other governments,and a threat to foreigners and Nigerian government officials.
Before Boko Haram adopted the tactic in February 2013, kidnappings, especially involving foreigners, were rare in northern Nigeria and almost unheard of in Boko Haram’s main base in Borno. From February to June 2013, however, more than 20 Nigerian government officials and civilians and seven foreigners were kidnapped in Borno.
This article analyzes Boko Haram’s motives for kidnapping and its twoh claimed operations between February and June 2013, the more than a dozen other kidnappings in Borno that the group did not claim, and whether the kidnappings provide evidence that members from the splinter group Ansaru
—known for its kidnapping operations—are reintegrating into Boko Haram.
Finally, the article discusses how kidnappings may undermine local and international initiatives to counter the “socioeconomic malaise” and security crisis in northern Nigeria and be a harbinger of greater collaboration
between Boko Haram, Ansaru, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). The article presents evidence that Ansaru may be operating with Boko Haram in Borno and that Ansaru has benefited from Boko Haram’s control of territory,manpower and grassroots connections,while Boko Haram may be benefiting from the networks and skills that Ansaru’s members developed from training and operating with al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM) and MUJAO members in the Sahel.
Kidnapping Motives and Operations Motives
Boko Haram’s decision to carry out kidnappings, particularly of women and children, possibly came in response to the Nigerian government’s detention of Boko Haram family members. In 2012, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau repeatedly accused the Nigerian government of “kidnapping” the wives of Boko Haram members and threatened to kidnap the wives and children of government officials in response to the “mistreatment” of women. Shekau’s spokesman also threatened that Boko Haram would kidnap the family members of government officials if the government continued to arrest relatives of Boko Haram members who were not engaged in the “ongoing jihad.”
This specific issue likely resonated with Boko Haram because many of the women and children detained by the security forces in 2012 were related to high-ranking Boko Haram members, including Shekau’s wife and children. While Boko Haram offered money to al-majiri youths to track the movements of the security forces, transport guns, and burn down schools and churches, there is little evidence that Boko Haram employed women in operations. Therefore, many of the detained women were likely taken into custody to put pressure on their husbands or male relatives in Boko Haram.
Boko Haram did not act on its kidnapping threats until February 19, 2013, when it kidnapped a seven-member French family in northern Cameroon and transferred the family to Boko Haram-controlled areas in Borno. On March 19, in the second video showing the family, Shekau said, “We are holding them hostage because the leaders of Cameroon and Nigeria detained our women and children under inhumane conditions.” One month later, on April 19, after secret negotiations between Shekau and the Cameroonian government (through intermediaries), Boko Haram released the family near the Cameroonian border in exchange for a $3 million ransom and the release of 16 Boko Haram prisoners held in Cameroon. Boko Haram carried out its second claimed kidnapping on May 7, when it captured 12 women and children from a police barracks after a battle with the security forces in the border town of Bama.
On May 14, Shekau appeared in a split-screen video showing the hostages and warned that if the security forces “do not release our wives and children, we will not release theirs,” and that the hostages would become his “servants.” Nine of the hostages were either released by Boko Haram or, according to official reports, “rescued” by the security forces on May 24, one day after President Jonathan issued a directive that 90 women and children “in detention on suspicion of involvement” with Boko Haram would be freed from prison. Like Shekau’s negotiations for the release of the French family, there are suspicions that he may have negotiated with the Nigerian government for an exchange.
The dozens of other kidnappings in Borno from February 2013 until June 2013 went unclaimed, but were carried out according to a pattern. Virtually all of the kidnapping victims were mid-level officials, or their relatives, who were not wealthy enough to have security details,but could afford modest ransoms of about $10,000. They included the manager of the Maiduguri Flour Mills, a lecturer at University of Maiduguri, a customs officer and six members of his family, a local government chairman, a divisional police officer, a criminal investigator, the manager of the Borno Water Board and his Christian friend who was beheaded,the brother of the Shehu of Bama, the mother of a Borno House of Assembly member, the parents of a Borno House of Parliament member, and the father of the Borno commissioner for women affairs.
The highest-profile incident was the kidnapping of 92-year-old Ali Monguno, a Borno Elders’ Forum member and father of a senior general in the Nigerian army, who was seized outside a mosque in Maiduguri and released three days later near the Cameroonian border after a ransom of $320,000 was paid. The series of kidnappings started when some Boko Haram members, including Chadians and Nigeriens, returned to Borno after the French military intervention in Mali in January 2013 and brought with them newly acquired pickup trucks, heavy weapons, bomb-making expertise and combat experience in desert warfare.
Within weeks, Boko Haram attempted to overrun border towns in Borno. The group raided and stole weapons from a military barracks in Monguno on March 3, fought the Nigerian army in a two-day battle in Baga that left more than 185 people dead on April 16,destroyed most government buildings,schools, hospitals and telecom towers in Marte on May 3, and broke into a prison in Bama, freeing 50 members, on May 7.These attacks forced local officials to leave their posts in more than 10 Local Government Areas of Borno bordering Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, which enabled Boko Haram to become the de facto authority.Boko Haram recruited and taxed locals, set up roadblocks, replaced Nigerian flags with Islamic ones,used schools as headquarters, and received weapons, such as anti-aircraft guns, with the help of corrupt customs officials, while the kidnappers were able to hold their hostages in the border region without government interference. Boko Haram did not claim the kidnappings of government officials in Borno, but Nigerian intelligence officials believed the kidnappers of Ali Monguno and the other incidents were likely Boko Haram members, while Nigeria’s Joint Task Force said Boko Haram resorted to kidnapping-for-ransom because it is more lucrative and less dangerous than bank robberies.
Ansaru’s Possible Reintegration
Although Boko Haram did not claim responsibility for many of the kidnappings, the reliance on Boko Haram-controlled areas in the border region for holding the hostages and the fact that Boko Haram never issued a statement to disassociate itself from them suggest that the group was complicit and possibly provided the kidnappers with protection in return for a share of the ransoms.This would resemble the agreement that Shekau may have made with AQIM-linked operative Khalid al-Barnawi and the AQIM-trained Boko Haram commander for Kaduna, Abu Muhammed.
According to that past agreement, al-Barnawi and Abu Muhammed reportedly agreed to carry out kidnappings of foreigners in Nigeria in return for protection from Boko Haram. The funding for these kidnappings likely came from AQIM-affiliated Algerian militants, who offered Boko Haram men, arms, and training to “defend” Muslims in Nigeria—as promised by AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel (also known as Abu Mus`ab al-Wadud) to Boko Haram in 2010—in exchange for Boko Haram transferring the foreigners to the Algerians.
Abu Muhammed went on to command—against Shekau’s orders—the Boko Haram breakaway cell “al-Qa`ida in the Lands Beyond the Sahel.” The cell kidnapped a British and Italian hostage in Kebbi in May 2011 and killed the two hostages during a rescue operation in Sokoto in March 2012. This was one month after Ansaru—widely speculated to be under the leadership of Khalid al-Barnawi—announced its formation(possibly on the advice of Droukdel to obscure its ties to AQIM by not including “al-Qa`ida” in its name).
It seems likely that Abu Muhammed’s and Khalid al-Barnawi’s splinter groups disagreed with Boko Haram about how to share funds from the Algerians, as well as Shekau’s acceptance of civilian deaths, preference for attacking Nigerian targets(rather than international ones), and possibly his favoritism of Kanuris (Borno’s main ethnic group).
The French-led invasion of northern Mali may have compelled Ansaru to rejoin Boko Haram, which could explain why Ansaru has not conducted any attacks since February 2013. As a result of the intervention, AQIM-affiliated Algerian commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar has been in hiding and possibly retreated toward southern Libya, while another AQIM Algerian commander, Abu Zeid, was killed in northern Mali. Both commanders trained and carried out attacks with Nigerians who later became Ansaru members.Authorities also killed or arrested the couriers from Ansaru and Boko Haram in Nigeria to AQIM and MUJAO in Mali.
Ansaru’s vital connections to AQIM and MUJAO members may have been severed. Now that Ansaru is increasingly isolated from AQIM and MUJAO, the group would logically benefit from kidnapping-for-ransom in Borno—which is Khalid al-Barnawi’s native state—to sustain itself financially. The security of Boko Haram’s safe havens would also reduce Ansaru’s paranoia about Nigerian or European security forces raiding its hideouts, as occurred in Kaduna, where Abu Muhammed was killed, as well as in Sokoto, Kano, and, according to Ansaru, almost again in Bauchi in February 2013.
Since many foreign employees left northern Nigeria after Ansaru killed seven foreign engineers that it kidnapped in Bauchi in March 2013, Ansaru may have few options but to kidnap Nigerians in Borno, as opposed to its preferred target: foreigners.
Evidence of Ansaru’s Presence in Borno
There are several signs of a new Ansaru focus on Borno, and they suggest that Ansaru members might be reintegrating into Boko Haram. First, in Ansaru’s only statement about an attack that it did not claim, the group “condemned the massacre of 300 Muslims” during Boko Haram’s battle with the Nigerian security forces in Baga, Borno State, on April 16,and called for revenge on the “crusaders and the United Nations.”
Second, in Boko Haram’s proof-of-life video with the French family, who were in Cameroon because the father worked for an engineering firm, an Arabic-speaking militant said that the operation was retaliation for the president of France’s “war on Islam” in Mali. This is a theme, language, and kidnapping victim profile associated with Ansaru, not Boko Haram.
Third, Nigeria’s Joint Task Force said in April 2013 that Boko Haram tasked a “special kidnapping squad” to carry out kidnappings of government officials, foreigners and wealthy individuals in Borno. The knowledge transfer from Ansaru members to Boko Haram could explain the emergence of this group, since Boko Haram did not carry out any kidnappings until this “special kidnapping squad” was formed.
Fourth, Ansaru’s areas of operations have been converging with Boko Haram’s since late 2012 and could have reached Borno. Ansaru’s attack on a prison in Abuja in November 2012, ambush of Nigerian troops preparing to deploy to Mali in Kogi State in January 2013, and killing of seven foreigners in Bauchi State in February 2013 show that Ansaru cells moved toward Boko Haram’s bases in northeastern Nigeria.
Finally, despite past disagreements between Ansaru’s suspected leader Khalid al-Barnawi and Shekau, mid-level members still operate between both groups and have put aside Ansaru’s and Boko Haram’s ideological differences. In June 2012,Ansaru’s spokesman confirmed that Ansaru “complements”its “brothers” in Boko Haram and that they
have the same mission and ideology—but with different leaders—and the same enemies: Nigerian security officials and Christians.
In addition, in November 2012, Ansaru showed it shared Boko Haram’s core grievances when it attacked the Special Anti-Robbery Squad prison in Abuja,freeing dozens of Boko Haram members, and stressed that one of them was a “woman who was detained for six months.” Shekau has also repeatedly distanced himself from Ansaru’s claims that Boko Haram kills Muslim civilians, by blaming the Nigerian government for civilian deaths.
Moreover, although Boko Haram is Borno-focused and Ansaru is Sokoto Caliphate-focused, on the international level they both see themselves as pillars in the international jihad, with separate references to al-Qa`ida in Iraq’s late amir, Abu Mus`ab al- Zarqawi, the “powerless” jihadists in Syria against “the enemy Bashar,” and Muslims fighting against America’s “Crusader War.”
There may also be new factions emerging in Borno, which are loyal to Shekau and comprised of members of Ansaru, Boko Haram and other militants who returned to Nigeria from northern Mali. For instance, the raid on the barracks in Monguno, also in Borno, on March 3,employed pickup trucks and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, which are characteristic of militants who fought in Mali, and eight motorcycles, which are typical of Boko Haram. The raid in Monguno, which was similar to MUJAO’s suicide operation using pickup trucks on a military barracks in Agadez, Niger, on May 23, 2013, was claimed in a video featuring 50 militants, including a veiled Hausa and Arabic-speaking leader, who displayed weapons he claimed were stolen from the barracks and said the militants would attack more barracks. The leader, however, did not identify himself as a member of Boko Haram or Ansaru, but as a new group, Nassiruddeen Li Ahlil Jihad Alal Kitab Was Sunna (Islamic Victors Committed to the Qur’an and Sunna). He called on “Muslim youths” to fight not “in the name of any sect, clan, or country,” but to“impose Islam over unbelievers,” and referred to Shekau’s leadership at the end of the video.
Three weeks later, Shekau claimed the attacks in Baga and Bama in the name of Boko Haram and said that “our members went to Monguno and easily invaded the army barracks.” The distinction between Ansaru and Boko Haram may be increasingly less defined given that Ansaru was defined by its connections to AQIM and MUJAO, and Boko Haram gained similar connections while its members were in northern Mali. 
Specter of Boko Haram Hangs Over Northeast Nigeria
Even with heavy weapons, combat experience, and millions of dollars in ransom money, Boko Haram cannot withstand the more powerful Nigerian army’s offensive that accelerated with President Jonathan’s declaration of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states on May 14, 2013. Boko Haram’s leaders and most-skilled members will retreat to other states in Nigeria or to neighboring countries in the Sahel, where they may find the support of militants with whom they fought in northern Mali in 2012.
The Ansaru and Boko Haram members who trained or fought with MUJAO and AQIM members in Algeria, Mali and other Sahelian countries will likely serve as a bridge between Boko Haram’s grassroots members and MUJAO in Niger, especially new recruits who joined Boko Haram as a result of the Nigerian army offensive in Borno. This could lead to the further regionalization of Boko Haram and allow its members to train and carry out operations while they are based outside of Nigeria.
Since MUJAO and AQIM members were key forces behind Boko Haram’s first attack on an international target—the UN Headquarters in Abuja on August 26, 2011—they could work with Boko Haram to orchestrate a similar attack. MUJAO could also benefit from connections to Boko Haram in Borno’s border region to expand southward toward Chad to exact revenge for Chad’s role in Mali and the killing of Abu Zeid.
With Boko Haram’s safe havens in Borno now under government control, Ansaru, which like MUJAO has no established geographic base, may move into hostile terrain in predominantly Christian southern Nigeria or, more likely, live up to its name and launch operations in “Black Africa” with MUJAO.
MUJAO threatened to expand into Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal on May 24, 2013, after it carried out suicide attacks on a French uranium mine in Arlit, Niger, and on the military barracks in Agadez, Niger, jointly with Belmokhtar’s forces in retaliation for Abu Zeid’s death and Niger’s support of France’s “war on Shari`a” in Mali. The June 1, 2013, attack on a prison in Niamey, Niger’s capital, that freed 22
prisoners, including a long-time AQIM member, and may have intended to free several detained Boko Haram members,was the type of attack that Boko Haram has carried out dozens of times in northern Nigeria and could have been the first sign of collaboration between Boko Haram, Ansaru and MUJAO.
The imprisonment of Boko Haram members with MUJAO and AQIM members could also help to integrate their groups if members are released from prison or in hostage exchanges, or by prison breaks. Within Nigeria, the recent kidnappings in Borno may further deter foreign governments from establishing consulates in northern Nigeria, especially given AQIM’s role in attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in September 2012,  the French Consulate in Algiers in
January 2013, and the UN Headquarters in Abuja in August 2011. NGOs in northern Nigeria will also likely be deterred, especially since Boko Haram-inspired militants killed nine anti-polio workers in February 2013. Western multinational corporations are scaling back operations in northern Nigeria because of the kidnapping threat, while a series of robberies and murders of Chinese, North Koreans, Indians and Nepalese in Kano and Borno may deter Asian entrepreneurs from investing in the north.
The oil resources on Borno’s border with Lake Chad could be a source for Borno’s development, but will likely remain untapped because of Boko Haram’s presence in the region.Other projects in the Lake Chad region may also be threatened by Boko Haram, Ansaru and MUJAO, such as locally controversial Chinese oil operations in Diffa, Niger, which is located five miles from Borno’s border.
Diffa is also where the majority of the 9,000 refugees from Borno, including possibly some Boko Haram members, are fleeing. Finally, southern Nigerians will be hesitant to conduct business in northern Nigeria because of the Boko Haram-inspired suicide vehicle bombings of Lagos-bound transportation in Kano’s Christian neighborhood in March 2013 and other attacks on Christian traders in Borno.
The government’s strategy to “cripple” Boko Haram has also affected infrastructure in Borno, with the closure of roads, border posts and telecom systems, and the banning of commercial trucks—which are all vital to the business community.
The security crisis in northern Nigeria is one that the Nigerian government and northern Nigerians will have to minimize by addressing certain root issues, such as the al-majiri students and other unemployed youths who are prime recruits for Boko Haram; the policy of detaining women relatives of Boko Haram members, which triggers a backlash from Boko Haram that may resonate with northern Nigerians; Ansaru’s and Boko Haram’s ideology, which seeks to delegitimize the Nigerian state and Islamic leaders who cooperate with the “Christian” government and promises to “restore the dignity” of Nigerian Muslims in an Islamic state;tactics to engage Boko Haram militarily in the small towns of Borno without causing significant collateral damage, which alienates the population, regardless of whether the military or Boko Haram was responsible; and, finally, when to end the state of emergency.
Regional cooperation, however, may be a complex issue for Nigeria, since West African countries historically have resisted allying with a regionally dominant Nigeria and now worry that Boko Haram will retaliate against them if they cooperate with Nigeria, as Boko Haram has done in Cameroon and Niger. Chad also has memories of 2008,when 1,000 militants in a convoy of 300 vehicles—not much larger than Boko Haram’s current forces—coming from Darfur almost reached N’Djamena, which is only 60 miles from Borno.
Chad’s President Deby now sees a dual threat from Boko Haram and militants in northern Niger, while Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou and President Deby have both expressed concerns about training camps in southern Libya, where Sahelian militants are “regrouping.”
Until a coherent local, sub-regional, and regional strategy is developed and implemented, Boko Haram and allied militant groups will likely continue to exploit the porous borders and leadership vacuum in West Africa.
Jacob Zenn is an analyst of African and Eurasian affairs for The Jamestown Foundation. He authored “Northern Nigeria’s Boko Haram: The Prize in al-Qaeda’s Africa Strategy,” published by Jamestown in November 2012, and conducted field research in Nigeria,Niger, Chad and Cameroon in June 2012.He speaks Arabic, French and Swahili.