Other reports have surfaced in recent weeks about potential al-Qaeda inroads into Nigeria, and this story provides further evidence.
This evolutionary path has become a common phenomenon among jihadist groups: you know you’ve hit the big time when you can link up with the best known brand in jihadist terrorism, al-Qaeda: Just ask al-Shabaab, Abu Sayyaf, or the former Salafist Group for Call and Combat. Of course, the reason such groups in supposedly “local” conflicts far removed from one another can make common cause is that they share the fundamental aim of jihad in all its forms: to impose Islamic law. Think jihad globally, wage jihad locally.
What remains to be seen is whether Boko Haram is too crazed for the more calculating al-Qaeda, and whether rivalries with the already established affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, would prove counterproductive. “AP Interview: US general sees Nigeria terror link,” from the Associated Press, August 17 (thanks to all who sent this in):
A radical Muslim sect responsible for assassinations and bombings across northern Nigeria may be trying to link with two al-Qaida-linked groups in other African countries to mount joint attacks in this oil-rich nation, the commander for U.S. military operations in Africa said Wednesday.
Gen. Carter Ham told The Associated Press that “multiple sources” indicate the Nigerian sect known as Boko Haram made contacts with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in northwest Africa, and with al-Shabab in Somalia.
“I think it would be the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well,” Carter said.
Ham said there is no specific intelligence suggesting the groups plan attacks against U.S. or Western interests in Nigeria, but the nation is a major supplier of crude oil to the U.S. and is an economic hub drawing foreigners from across the world.
Ham’s comments were the strongest official remarks on fears privately held by Western and Nigerian officials. However, it remains unclear what formal links, if any, exist between Boko Haram, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabab. The three organizations have different ethnic roots and their objectives are not the same, but they are all Islamist militant groups.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, came to prominence in 2009 when sect members attacked local police stations and government buildings throughout northeast Nigeria. The riots and ensuing security crackdown left 700 people dead.
Last year, the group began assassinating clerics and police officers. It also has engineered spectacular attacks, including the June bombing of Nigeria’s federal police headquarters, the assassination of a prominent politician and a prison break that freed more than 700 inmates.
Boko Haram seeks the implementation of strict Shariah Islamic law in the country. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is largely split between a Christian south and Muslim north, where 12 states have a version of Shariah in place.
Ham said it appears Boko Haram may be splitting with one section focused on domestic issues and another on violent international extremism.
“What is most worrying at present is, at least in my view, a clearly stated intent by Boko Haram and by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to coordinate and synchronize their efforts,” the general said. “I’m not so sure they’re able to do that just yet, but it’s clear to me they have the desire and intent to do that.”
Ham said that a “loose” partnership also would include al-Shabab. A suspected al-Shabab bombmaker now facing terrorism charges in New York was at one point detained by secret police in Nigeria. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, also known as AQIM, has issued statements in support of Boko Haram, and both use similar logos in communiques.
A recent video indicates that two men, a Briton and an Italian who were kidnapped in northwestern Nigeria, are being held by AQIM.