Nigeria’s Cancer Spreads
September 1, 2011 -
Think of global terrorism hotbeds, and countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia come to mind. Nigeria probably would not be in the top ten. Think again.
Two years ago, I posted on a Nigerian group named Boko Haram. Not many had heard of the group then. Thanks to a bombing that rocked the U.N. compound in the country’s capital last week, that’s changing.
Boko Haram – which translates into "education is prohibited" – is just the latest example of how the threat from al-Qaeda is metastasizing.
For years now, the "Nigerian Taliban" has been working to impose its strict ways in the country’s Muslim north. Once believed to be strictly local – there are now reports that members have traveled abroad to link up with al-Qaeda members.
They’ve traveled to north Africa to train with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Horn to link with al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s East African arm. In June, Boko Haram released a statement claiming its fighters had received "real training on warfare from our brethren who made [Somalia] ungovernable." A day later, Boko Haram carried out Nigeria’s first suicide bombing. Once armed with bows and arrows, Boko Haram is now perfecting improvised explosive devices.
Nigeria’s position – the continent’s most populous country and leading oil producer – makes this a U.S. security interest. Our top military man for the region recently said that Boko Haram’s contacts with AQIM and al-Shabaab "would be the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well." That was just before last week’s bombing.
Nigeria has long been fragile, evidenced by its brutal Biafran War in the 1960s that ripped it apart, and the perpetual sabotage in its oil-producing Delta region. Now it's contending with militant jihad. I’ve been told by a Muslim governor in northern Nigeria about the influx of Gulf state-funded radical mosques – led by Gulf state imams.
It doesn’t help that Nigeria's political leadership is weak, and its security forces are struggling with the threat. At the request of the Nigerians, the FBI is assisting with the investigation of the U.N. compound. They need the help.
Some U.S. officials are writing al-Qaeda’s obituary. The case of Boko Haram shows how very premature that is…