Nigeria: Terrorism's new hot spot

The local extremists behind Nigeria's Easter bombings may be linked to other al-Qaida groups

Published April 12, 2012 12:00PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

ABUJA, Nigeria — As the death toll continues to rise in the wake of Nigeria’s Easter bombings, analysts say the latest attack is part of a “wave” of "religious fundamentalism” that indicate the threat that homegrown extremists, Boko Haram, may form links to other al-Qaida groups.

Global PostDoctors report that 41 people died from Sunday’s suicide bombing, which happened on the road to a church in the northern city of Kaduna. But leaders of the local motorcycle taxi association said 100 of its members were killed in the blast, according to the Nigerian Tribune.

No group has taken credit for the attack yet, but Islamist militant group Boko Haram issued several warnings to the Kaduna government, saying they planned to strike on Easter Sunday, according to Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria President Shehu Sani.

“They don’t make false threats,” said Shani, referring to Boko Haram, by phone from Kaduna. “It’s very clear that the security forces are incapable of protecting lives.”

Nigerian political scientist Hussaini Abdu said religious extremism — both Christian and Muslim — has been on the rise in recent years. Boko Haram attacks also are a result of increasing numbers of young people who are under-educated, unemployed and broke. With bleak prospects, many are attracted to the militant group, he said.

“They have become a very terrible nuisance to our society, almost getting to a very nihilistic level where they are happy killing people in the street,” he said Tuesday in his office in the capital, Abuja.

Abdu said Boko Haram is currently a Nigerian problem, with the majority of victims in the country’s mostly Muslim north. But as massacres continue to hit the nation, it is believed the group could form links to other Islamist extremist groups, like what he called the al-Qaida “franchise,” including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Somalia’s Al Shabaab and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Boko Haram, meaning, “Western education is a sin,” is a Taliban-like sect based in northern Nigeria that began militant operations against the Nigerian government in 2009. The group says its goals are to establish a separate Islamic state and secure the release of imprisoned members. In the past year it has ramped up its violence.

In August last year, Boko Haram bombed the United Nations offices in this capital city, killing 16 people.

On Christmas Day a series of church bombings near the Nigerian capital killed about 40 people. More than two weeks later Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks and warned Christians to vacate Nigeria's north.

In late January, after the group claimed responsibility for synchronized bombings in Nigeria’s second largest city, Kano, that left about 200 people dead, Human Rights Watch said nearly 1,000 have died in Boko Haram attacks.

Since the Christmas bombings, Nigerians have lived in constant fear, said Eucharia Ugbodume, a 28-year-old mother of two, who works in a small grocery in Abuja.

Ugbodume points out that the north is by far the poorest part of Nigeria. Overall, 61 percent of Nigerians cannot afford basic needs, like enough food or healthcare, despite the fact that it is Africa’s largest oil exporter.

Ugbodume complains that poverty intensified when the government suddenly cut a decades-old fuel subsidy at the beginning of the year, a move that sparked mass protests across the country and sent food and transport costs soaring. Economists hailed the cut, but the government was eventually forced to partially reinstate the subsidy.

"We are begging them to make [the food and fuel prices] come down,” she said on a break from the shop on Monday.  “Everybody’s scared because of that bomb blast ... the country is not secure."

Top government officials have tried to assuage public fear by saying that the terrorist threat is being brought under control.

On Sunday, before the Easter bombings, Minister of Defense Bello Haliru Mohammed told the northern-based Nigerian newspaper Leadership that Boko Haram had been contained, and intelligence officers had infiltrated their ranks.

“The security agencies have managed to lock them in small areas,” he said, according to Leadership. “I would say, of all the talk of insecurity and violence, it is happening only in about 20 of the 774 local governments in the country.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said in late March that the group would be under the control of the government by June of this year, Leadership reports. But Mohammed said Sunday that deadline would not be met.

The Nigerian security's pervasive reputation for corruption and ineptitude may hinder its battle against Boko Haram.

However, other Nigerians express optimism, saying the government may ultimately prevail.

Abuja food trader and father of three Shaibu Anibe, 42, said the government’s combined approach of reaching out for negotiations while beefing up security is beating back the organization. Fighting Boko Haram, he added, is not only the responsibility of the Nigerian leadership.

“We should be cautious about our security ourselves,” he said. “We cannot leave it all to the government. Government cannot be everywhere."

By Heather Murdock

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