Security forces in in Nigeria’s capital Abuja have indicated that a cell of suspected Islamist militants has opened fire on its forces. If confirmed, this would be the first time that Boko Haram has staged an attack in Abuja this year. In turn, it has cast doubts on claims that the group’s rebellion has been contained. Attacks in the northeastern region of the country have increased recently despite the massive military deployment and state of emergency in the worst-affected areas. In the latest incident to occur in the northern state of Borno, officials have stated that at least eighty-seven people have been killed by militants, who disguised themselves in military uniforms at a checkpoint outside the town of Benisheik. Officials have reported that the militants shot dead those trying to flee.
According to the State Security Service, Nigeria’s spy agency, the clash occurred at about 03:00 local time after a tip off pertaining to the location of a suspected Boko Haram weapons cache. On the ground sources have indicated that the shooting occurred at a two-storey building which is under construction in Abuja’s Apo district, which is home to a huge residential complex for Nigerian parliamentarians. Reports also indicate that the building has been used by young men where they sleep at night. According to the agency, the security team which approached the building, had been acting on information that was received from two men. A statement from the State Security Service further noted that “no sooner had the team commenced digging for the arms, than they came under heavy gunfire attack by other Boko Haram elements.” The Agency did not provide an further details pertaining to the casualties however eye witnesses have reported seeing nine bodies.
Meanwhile the attack in Benisheik took place on Tuesday however news of it has been slow to emerge as all phone lines in the region have been cut in an effort to help the ongoing military offensive. According to security sources, Boko Haram militants drove into the town in about twenty pick-up trucks. In what is one of the deadliest attacks to occur in the region since the state of emergency was declared, over the last three days, witnesses have reported health workers loading dead bodies onto trucks, with some reports indicating that the militants have killed more than 140 people. According to an officials within the state’s environmental protection agency, “apart from the dead bodies recovered today (Thursday), we collected 55 on Wednesday and the fact is that we did not go deep into the bush where I strongly believe that many people have fallen there.” There was also an attack that occurred on Wednesday night in neighboring Yobe State, which is also under a state emergency but which has not witnesses a high level of violence such as Borno state. Sources have indicated that Boko Haram militants attacked the town at about 22:30, burning the police station along with other public buildings. State police commissioner Sanusi Rufa’i has stated that “a soldier was killed in a shootout and the wive of the divisional police chief was burnt to death in her home.”
While this is attack is the first to occur in Abuja this year, Nigeria’s capital city had already suffered two major Boko Haram attacks two years ago. The first occurred when a suicide bomber rammed a car into the police headquarters in June 2011, killing eight people. Two months later, the group attacked the United Nations Headquarters, killing twenty-three people. This most recent attack however is startling as it comes at a time when the country is experiencing a military offensive in three northern states coupled with a state of emergency that has been in place since May of this year. In turn, the attack comes at a time when analysts have increasingly warned that while the military offensive may route out Boko Haram militants from the affected northern state, it may also drive them further south and into the neighboring states, therefore further exacerbating the issue.
Ghana’s President John Mahama has warned that Islamist militants pose a threat that could destabilise the whole of West Africa. This announcement comes just days after Niger’s President indicated that Islamist militants, who attacked two sights in Niger, had come from southern Libya. It also comes at a time when Nigeria’s army announces that armory belonging to the Lebanese group Hezbollah is discovered in northern Nigeria.
Ghana’s President Mahama has indicated that while his country has not directly been affected by the threats, no country in the region was safe if an insurgency were to take place in the region. He further stated that while the French-led military operation had helped secure stability in Mali, the conflict was far from being over, stating that “there is the danger of asymmetric attacks like we saw in Niger the last few days, and so it is a matter that worries all of us in the sub-region.” In turn, the operation to drive out al-Qaeda, and other allied Islamist groups, from northern Mali had showed how the whole Sahel region had “become an attractive foothold for insurgents.”
Meanwhile in Nigeria, an army spokesman, Brigadier Gen. Ilyasu Isa Abba has confirmed that a cache, including 11 anti-tank weapons, four anti-tank mines, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and 21 RPG missiles, 17 AK-47’s, two sub-machine guns and 76 grenades, have been found in a warehouse in the northern city of Kano. He further indicated that three Lebanese nationals have been arrested while a fourth is still at large. According to a military statement, one suspect, Mustafa Fawaz, was arrested on May 16 and his “confession unveiled other members of the foreign terrorists network.” A second suspect, Abdullah Tahini, was arrested several day later while attempting to board a flight to Beirut from the airport in Kano. The third detained Lebanese national, Talal Roda, was arrested at the Kano home on May 26 while the fourth suspect, who has been identified as Fauzi Fawad, remains to be at large. Nigeria’s State Security Service has stated that the weapons were intended to be used against “Israeli and Western interests,” with Bassey Ettang, director of the State Security Service in Kano, noting that “this is the handwork of Hezbollah.” He further indicated that “investigations are still ongoing to determine” if the Lebanese nationals “are really connected to Boko Haram.”
This is the first time that Nigerian authorities have alleged that Hezbollah has had an operational interest in the country. Kano, and the north-eastern region of Nigeria, have suffered multiple attacks in the last three years, ever since the home-grown Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, launched an insurgency. According to Mr. Ettang, “you can be sure that if a group like this is existing then it may even lend support to some of the local terrorista we have on the ground.” Hezbollah is a Shiite military and political movement that is based in Lebanon. It is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States.
Reacting to the latest claims, a security official in Israel has indicated that Nigeria was a “destination state for Shiite terror and global Jihad groups, which are boosting their efforts in Africa as part of international efforts.” The source further indicated that “the cell exposed and arrested is part of a Shiite terror campaign against Western and Israeli targets around the world which has been taking place for a number of years…the possibility that members of the cell acted under Hezbollah’s orders in other African states, such as Benin, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Sierra Leone, is also being examined.”