Terror Group Boko Haram Is A Growing Concern to U.S.
By Ellen Cannon
Religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria intensified today following a bombing of a madrasa in southern Nigeria, wounding seven and escalating already uneasy tensions between the two groups after several church bombings took place across the nation during the Christmas holiday.(www.nytimes,12/29/11)
The sectarian strife between the two religious communities was ignited by the terror group Boko Haram which seeks to impose strict sharia law on northern, predominantly Muslim Nigeria, end democracy, and end all forms of constitutionalism.
After the bombings on Christmas, a Boko Haram spokesperson using the nom de guerre Abuyl-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks in an interview with The Daily Trust. The spokesperson said, “There will never be peace until our demands are met. We want all our brothers who have been incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the Shairiah system and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended.” The umbrella Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has warned that “continuous attacks on churches could trigger a religious war, and said Christians would be compelled to defend themselves against future attacks.” (www.afriquejet.com12/28/11) In 2011, Boko Haram was responsible for 504 killings. Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa with 160 million people. It is the eight largest oil producing country in the world from which we receive a large percentage of our annual petroleum.
As a result of Boko Haram’s Christmas attack on St. Theresa Catholic Church, killing 26 people, President Obama has pledged to assist Nigerian officials in bringing those responsible for the violence to justice. “We condemn this senseless violence and tragic loss of life on Christmas Day,” the White House said in a statement released from Hawaii, where the President is vacationing. (www.thenationonlineng.net.12/28/11)
There is growing concern among American Defense experts and oil experts that Boko Haram is increasing its recruiting, developing more sophisticated and dangerous forms of violence. In addition, there is increasing speculation whether Boko Haram has formed links with outside extremist groups such as Al -Qaeda’s North African branch and Somalia’s al Shabaab. According to reports in the African press, diplomats say there have long been reports of Boko Haram members receiving training in foreign countries, but there has been no direct proof so far of operational links between the terrorist organizations.
President Obama and the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon have condemned the Boko Haram Christmas day bombings urging security agencies in the country to quickly investigate the attacks and prosecute the perpetrators. Speaking through the White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, President Obama stated “we offer our sincere condolences to the Nigerian people and especially those who lost family and loved ones. President Obama said he is in contact with Nigerian authorities “on what initially appear to be terrorist acts” to do all they need to end this situation.
Former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, says Boko Haram has given voice to what he calls “a cloud of inchoate rage shaped by Islam” that has brewed among northern Nigerians. President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan needs to address this northern alienation, of which Boko Haram is only a symptom.” Ambassador Campbell, who is currently the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns against thinking the problem of this terrorist group can be handled solely by a military response. He states, “Too heavy a hand would risk alienating Nigeria’s 75 million Muslims, who already have legitimate grievances in the north. This, in turn, could undermine the very unity of Nigeria- something neither Washington nor Abuju can afford.” (www.thenationonlineng.net12/27/11)
Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is a sin,” in Hausa, draws inspiration from the Afghanistan Taliban movement. An early version of the group formed in 2004, initially made up of university graduates and dropouts from wealthy and middle class families and going by the name the “Nigerian Taliban.” According to allAfrica.com, “Drawing inspiration from the ‘Afghan Taliban’, a group of 200 sect members set up camp in the village of Kanamma on the border with Niger. The camp was dubbed “Afghanistan” and from there it launched its attacks on police stations killing policemen and carting away ammunition. It was led by a charismatic figure, Mohammed Yusuf, who convinced young people to join him despite seeming to have only slight knowledge of the Koran.
Like other terror leaders, Yusuf gave fiery speeches, sold tapes and DVDs in Nigeria’s north and at one point had 3000 followers. Between its early years and 2010 the violence of the group and its sophistication increased although its targets remained security agencies and police. Things change, in 2010, shortly after the killing of Yusuf. By 2010 bomb blasts increased in frequency and their target shifted to doing direct harm to the Christian community of Nigeria. In addition, in August 2011, Boko Haram attacked the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria with suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devises, killing 23 people and injuring more than 80. In a video recorded before the attack, the suicide bomber described the U.N. as a forum for “all global evil” and stated that the attack was designed to “send a message to the U.S. President and other infidels.”
Following the death of Yusuf, Boko Haram regrouped under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau. Not much is known about this leader. TheTimes, interviewed a member of the group last year who “denied any financial support from Al Qaeda but said the group derived its ideological foundation from the international militant group. He said hundreds of fighters were aligned with Boko Haram. They are underground; they are everywhere, in every northern state.” (www.terrorismwatch.org/09/13/11,
In November, 2011 Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-PA and Congressman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, released a bi-partisan report entitled “Boko Haram- The Emerging Threat to the Homeland” detailing the rapid evolution of Nigerian based terror group Boko Hararm . Meehan said: “It is critical that the U.S. Intelligence Community thoroughly and carefully examine the extent of the threat from Boko Harem to the Homeland. Our report finds that the August attack on the U.N. represented a major escalation of the group that mirrors the rise of other Al Qaeda affiliate groups including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). While some believe Boko Haram will focus on targets within Nigeria and does not have the intent or capability to strike the U.S. Homeland, the same was assessed about AQAP and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) before its near fatal attacks over Detroit on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas day 2009 and in Times Square in May 2010. This report is intended to raise awareness of the emerging threat posed by Boko Haram to the U.S. Homeland and to encourage the U.S. Intelligence Community to be especially vigilant to ensure Boko Haram does not reach our shores.” (Committee Report, November 30, 2011 )
The growing concern of the United States regarding the terror group Boko Haram is clearly expressed by the commander of U.S. Africa Command, Army General Carter F. Ham. Speaking to reporters at the Defense Writes group he said “that while Al-Qaeda may be “somewhat diminished,” its affiliates in Africa pose a growing concern. The three primary terrorist groups in Africa are Al-Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb in the Sahel region, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Each of those three poses a significant threat not only in the nations where they primarily operate, but regionally,” Ham said, “and I think they pose a threat to the United States.”
Army General Ham went on to state, “The three groups have explicitly and publicly voiced intent to target Westerners, in general and the United States especially. I have questions about their capabilities to do so; I have no question about their intent to do so. And that to me is very worrying.”
According to General Ham, “The three groups also have voiced their intent to increase collaboration, and synchronize their efforts. We are seeing this most clearly between AQIM and Boko Haram.” General Ham went on to examine the potential and interest of the groups sharing training sites and in planning operations. “That, he said, “is very, very worrying. The connections with Al-Shabaab are probably more idealistic than realistic at this point, but just the fact that they want to connect is worrying. If left unaddressed, the terror groups could coalesce and produce a network that would run from East Africa, through the center of the continent and into the Sahel and the Maghreb.”
Underscoring the views expressed by President Obama in terms of assisting Nigeria, General Ham stated, “The United States has to work with regional partners to address the terrorist threat in Africa. U.S. officials also must understand that the Africans are better suited to address this threat than a solution imposed from the outside.” (Jim Garamone, “Ham Cites Terror Group Issues in Africa, www.defense.gov9/15/11)
Tim Cocks of Reuters suggests that the most recent attacks “strike at historic internal religious and regional divides that have often threatened the integrity of Africa’s most populous state since its independence from Britain in 1960- dangerous divisions that included a brief but bloody civil war over the secession of Biafra in the eastern region…The latest attacks will fuel the fears of Nigerian and Western security experts who increasingly link Boko Haram to a wider violent militant Islamic jihadist threat from North Africa across the Sahara. They could also invite more Western counter-terrorism support for Nigeria and fellow governments in West Africa’s strategic oil producing Gulf of Guinea region- a growing energy supplier to the United States and other Western powers seeking to temper their over-reliance on the Middle East.” (http://in.reuters.com12.27.11)
Illinois Senator Mark Kirk(R) has made the issue of the growing threat of terror groups in Africa and the Af-Pak region a primary foreign policy concern. Recently, Senator Kirk took to the floor of the Senate to denounce the sustained threat posed by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia and to praise the heroic efforts by the President of Kenya to launch a major operation against them.
“Al-Shabaab poses a grave threat to Kenya’s safety and security, said Senator Kirk. “Since 2009, Al –Shabaab conducted at least 10 attacks on Kenya’s soil and territorial seas or along the Somalia-Kenya border. In a particularly heinous crime, on October 1, 2011, they kidnapped a disabled French woman on Kenyan soil and dragged her to Somalia, where she later died.” Senator Kirk underscored his great appreciation to the government of Kenya by stating, “I commend the Kenyan government and the allied groups for their action. The United States and NATO should show support for this Kenyan action.” (Senator Kirk’s speech to Senate, November 3, 2011)
In addition, Senator Kirk thanked the prominent local tribal militias that are also lending support to fight Al-Shabaab. These include, “Ahlu Sunnah Waljamaah (ASJW), the Raas Kaambooni Front, and the Jubaland militia formed under the leadership of the former TFG defense minister Mohammed Abdi Mohamed.(Ellen Cannon, lodeplus.com “Kirk Thanks Kenya for Action Against Al-Shabaab Terrorists)
Senator Kirk has been one of the chief voices in the U.S. Senate to bring attention to Al-Shabaab’s attempt to radicalize and target Muslim-American Somali communities in an effort to recruit them for terrorist activities. Minneapolis is a key recruiting city for Al-Shabaab. Senator Kirk discussed a recent incident by Al-Shabaab which occurred on October 29., 2011. “A suicide bomber attacked an African Union (AU) base in Mogadishu, killing himself and 10 more. The suspect, Abdisalan Hussein Ali, was a 22 year old American citizen who grew up in Minneapolis and studied to be a doctor before he suddenly disappeared to join Al-Shabaab in 2008. The audio recording he allegedly made prior to his death contains the disturbing message likely aimed at young Americans: “Today, jihad is what is most important. It is not important that you become a doctor, or some sort of engineer.” (Video of Senator Kirk’s speech to Senate, November 3, 2011)