The threat of Boko Haram for Nigeria, Africa, and beyond
Earlier this month, J. Peter Pham of The Africa Center for Strategic Studies provided an in-depth analysis of the militant Islamic group Boko Haram. He makes the important point that since the group's reemergence in 2010 and its association with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram has grown to present a threat not only to Nigeria, but also across Africa and globally.
Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group that has become prominent in northern Nigeria. Founded in the early 2000s by Mohammed Yusuf, the group emerged during violence that split Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines. The Christian south receives most of the economic benefits from Nigeria's extensive oil resources. The relative poverty in the Muslim north has created increasing dissatisfaction with the government. Boko Haram's goal has been to establish an Islamic state throughout Nigeria.
In 2009, the group was weakened by a major government crackdown and the death of its leader, Yusuf. But since 2010, it has been rebuilding itself with new leadership, manpower, and tactics, and has renewed its terrorist campaign within Nigeria. According to Pham:
Since late 2010, the organization has been responsible for a brutal campaign of attacks target-ing public officials and institutions and, increasingly, ordinary men, women, and children, wreaking havoc across northern Nigeria. At least 550 people were killed in 115 separate attacks in 2011, a grisly toll that has been accelerating.
Featuring prominently in Boko Haram's renewal is the assistance the group has received from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM claims that it has provided Boko Haram with weapons, training, and other support. As Pham writes:
Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud (also known as Abdelmalek Droukdel), the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the head of al Qaeda's North African franchise stated that his group would provide Boko Haram with weapons, training, and other support in order to expand its own reach into Sub-Saharan Africa not only to gain "strategic depth," but also to "defend Muslims in Nigeria and stop the advance of a minority of Crusaders.
An additional sign of AQIM involvement is Boko Haram's adoption of new tactics. For example, Boko Haram now employs suicide attacks, something not previously seen in Nigeria. And Boko Haram is also allowed to use AQIM's media operation, al Andalus.
Association with Boko Haram has proven to be a significant development for AQIM as well; the al Qaeda affiliate has long had a strategic goal to extend its reach beyond its base in Northern Africa and into the rest of Africa. Pham's article highlights al Qaeda's pronouncements on this topic:
In June 2006, for example, Sada al-Jihad (Echo of Jihad), the magazine published by what was then al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, published a lengthy article by Abu Azzam al-Ansari entitled "Al-Qaeda is Moving to Africa." The author was quite upfront about the jihadist agenda for Africa: "There is no doubt that al-Qaeda and the holy warriors appreciate the significance of the African regions for the military campaigns against the Crusaders.
Boko Haram provides al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb with an avenue to expand its operations in Africa. The two groups can be considered to be affiliated organizations, having causes and goals in common. They share ambitions in Nigeria, as well as in greater Africa and globally. Leaders of both organizations have publicly pledged mutual support. Abubakar bin Muhammad Shekau, head of Boko Haram, has linked the jihad being fought by Boko Haram with the global jihad. He has threatened attacks not only in Nigeria but also against "outposts of Western culture."
Boko Haram, in association with AQIM, constitutes a threat not only to Nigeria, but also a wider, transnational, threat. Because Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and most populous state, instability there has significant global implications. In addition, Boko Haram's increasing ability to expand its operations beyond its northeastern Nigeria base poses a potential threat across Africa.