4 Threat Matrix: Boko Haram aims to topple Nigerian government
Written by Wes Bruer on February 6, 2012 8:03 PM to 4 Threat Matrix
Available online at: http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2012/02/boko_haram_aims_to_topple_nige.php
The People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad, or Boko Haram, as the group is infamously known to the international community, has escalated its war on the Nigerian government in recent months, with devastating effects. In January alone, the terror group's attacks claimed over 250 lives, already more than half the number of deaths inflicted by its attacks in all of 2011. With a history of sectarian violence and recent bouts of civil unrest, Nigeria is at risk of descending into civil war as it faces an Islamic insurgency that is emerging as one the deadliest in the world.
Maiduguri, located in northeast Nigeria's Muslim-dominated Borno state, is the birthplace of Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad (Boko Haram's official nom de guerre). Founded in 2002 by influential Muslim cleric Mohammad Yusuf, the group evolved from the leader's mosque and madrassa members to a nationwide threat aimed at establishing sharia law throughout Africa's most populous nation. And despite the arrest and summary killing of Yusuf by security forces in 2009, the group has redoubled its efforts to destabilize the government of President Goodluck Jonathan.
After Yusuf's death, the deputy leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, took the reins. Shekau has capitalized on the growing popular discontent with the government's handling of economic woes, now coupled with its inability to prevent the group's increasingly brazen terror attacks. Boko Haram punctuated its threat on Jan. 22 when gunmen and suicide bombers coordinated attacks on government and police buildings in Kano, leaving 185 dead. The attack followed a string of bombings on Christmas Day last year that killed 35 people. The country has also been plagued by numerous other bombings and attacks by gunmen during the previous months since Shekau's promotion to emir.
History shows that violence in Africa has rarely raised eyebrows in the West, but the increasing influence of radical Islam in Nigeria is putting the international community on edge. One point of particular concern is a UN report showing Boko Haram's ties with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The report outlines the arrest of seven Boko Haram members who were traveling through Niger to Mali, in possession of contact information for known al Qaeda members. Although coordination between Boko Haram and AQIM may still be only in the early stages, any communication between the terror groups spells trouble for Africa and may help explain the recent increase in violence in Nigeria.
While Boko Haram and al Qaeda-aligned groups share the same general goals, Boko Haram has characteristics that are particularly worrisome. Instead of aspiring to attack globally, Nigeria's Islamic threat has a concentrated scope of attack that does not stray beyond the country's borders. The group's enemy has been clearly identified as the security and government forces of President Goodluck Jonathan, and as it stands, they seem capable of being defeated. And although Boko Haram has not sworn allegiance to al Qaeda, the terror franchise has a vested interest in seeing Nigeria fail as a state and become a terror safe haven à la Shabaab in Somalia. If that were to happen, Nigeria's geographic position would render all of North Africa susceptible to Islamic insurgencies itching to battle ill-equipped governments.
Alarmed by the rise in Islamic terrorism in Nigeria, the governments of the US, Britain, and Israel have all expressed willingness to assist Jonathan's government and security forces with counterterrorism measures. But international assistance must be timely and calculated. The US is all too familiar with the results of showering corrupt administrations with financial aid, especially with administrations similar to Nigeria's current government, which admittedly has extremist sympathizers within its cabinet. Nigeria is clearly at a tipping point. The prospect of Boko Haram marginalizing the government, creating a security vacuum, and filling it, grows more possible with each attack.