Last week, Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement claimed responsibility for a bombing at the police headquarters in the capital Abuja. Boko Haram has struck outside of its base in the Northeast before, but the Abuja bombing and other recent attacks have shown that the group is expanding its geographical range and increasing the sophistication of its attacks, sometimes coordinating multiple strikes at once.
Another example of these trends came yesterday in Katsina State, which is slightly west of the center of Nigeria’s upper North (map), and a fair distance from Boko Haram’s stronghold of Borno State (map). Accounts of the attack vary slightly, but here is AFP’s report:
Suspected members of the radical Boko Haram Islamist sect on Monday staged simultaneous bomb and gun attacks on a police station and a bank killing seven people, witnesses and local journalists said.
The dead included five policemen, witnesses said, in an attack coming just four days after the sect bombed the country’s police headquarters in the capital Abuja killing at least two.
A gang of 10 gunmen launched the two attacks on a police station and a bank in Kankara town, 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of the northern city of Katsina.
AFP’s whole piece is worth reading for a sense of Boko Haram’s tactics.
This attack follows threats by Boko Haram to stage attacks throughout the North and indeed throughout the country. The “nationalization” of the Boko Haram problem will intensify pressure on elected leaders and security forces to deal decisively with the group and prevent further attacks. Nigerian officials have proposed solutions ranging from crackdowns to outreach programs to amnesty offers. The government has to some extent pursued all of these options. Yesterday former Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau proposed a hybrid approach of sorts, which would rely on intelligence gathering to defeat the group while advancing employment programs to deal with social and political grievances in Northern society.
Whatever course the government pursues, the Boko Haram problem has already led several Northern leaders, including the newly elected Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, to speak quite bluntly about the North’s serious problems of economic stagnation and political isolation. Northerners have been voicing such concerns for some time, but perhaps now these concerns will reach a broader audience and stimulate a debate that goes beyond just the issue of Boko Haram.
I wonder if Aqim has a exit strategy for Mali and what role they see for themselves in the north of Nigeria.
We know there are contacts between Al Shabaab and Aqim (intercepted messages and messengers).
You feel sure that AQIM has a presence in Northern Nigeria? I had a big conversation about that on Twitter today with @tweetsintheME, @tommymiles and a few others. We were leaning toward skepticism.
It’s hard to say. Heck, there’s still a good amount of disagreement about what Al Qaeda is anymore*. It’s hardly surprising that AQ and Al-Shabab have contacted each other, the real question is whether material support is provided or if it remains limited to moral support.
*I personally am on the side that it is a relatively normal international group with a few wings in different states that happens to be rather popular. Not on the side of the view that it is largely an inspirational ideal.
I am quite sure that Aqim has ‘a presence’ in northern Nigeria, but don’t know much about what they are up to or if they even get along. There should be a brisk trade of arms at this time. Does Boko Harum have their own training camps?
They probably have something of the sort, you can’t just teach people how to make bombs in the basement*. Of course they might be using camps of other groups.
*Well you can, but that’s incredibly stupid.
Before the trigger-happy AFRICOM types start advocating “drone strikes in Northern Nigeria”, let me make a few points.
1. The Boko Haram project has not yet been “nationalised”. Boko Haram has been limited to the far North and Middle-Belt regions (Abuja is in the Middle Belt). I doubt it will ever be. Implementing the Boko Haram project in Southern Nigeria will be extremely difficult – too many violent non-Muslim young men.
2. The greatest threat is the dissolution of the Nigerian State. We’ve heard a lot of noise from the far North, but the rest of the country has been relatively quiet. Do not assume that the greatest beneficiary of a weak Jonathan presidency will be the Northern elite. We are in uncharted waters here.
3. AQIM would be stupid not have a presence in Northern Nigeria – porous borders, disaffected youth, poverty, region with history of violence. That’s a no brainer. The question is how significant a presence?
4. Bomb-making skills are not in short supply in this part of the World. The bomb could have been put together by Boko Haram sympathisers with military training (they exist) or by Nigerians with experience from the Chadian wars or by Somalian trained people. (I just wonder why they’d bother to go all the way to Somalia when there is so much in-house expertise).
More to the point, so far they haven’t shown any signs of becoming international and unless Nigeria really can’t handle it the U.S has little to gain by getting involved. It’s one thing to have strong military ties, it’s quite another to go after every single local terrorist group in the world.