The United Nations child agency has reported that Boko Haram’s use of child bombes has increased over the last year, with one in five suicide attacks being carried out by children.
According to a new report, girls, who are often drugged, were behind three-quarters of such attacks that were committed by the militant Islamist group in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria. This represents an 11-fold increase, with four such attacks carried out in 2014, compared to 44 the next year, including January 2016. Analysts note that this change in tactics reflects the group’s loss of territory in Nigeria over the past several months. A regional offensive by Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon last year drove Boko Haram from much of its territory it held in northern Nigeria, effectively undermining its six-year campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate. Despite this loss of territory, the militants have struck back with suicide bombing and hit-and-run attacks targeting civilians.
Meanwhile aid agency Mercy Corps reported on Monday that Boko Haram has lured young entrepreneurs and business owners in northeastern Nigeria to join the Islamist group by providing or promising capital and loans to boost their businesses. According to Mercy Corps, seeing successful business ownership as a way to escape poverty, many Nigerian youths, ranging from butchers and beauticians to tailors and traders, have accepted loans for their businesses in return for joining Boko Haram. The report from the US-based aid agency notes however that this lure of business support is often a trap, as those who cannot repay their loans are either forced to join the militants or are killed. Report author and Mercy Corps peacebuilding adviser Lisa Inks has disclosed that “Boko Haram is tapping into the yearning of Nigerian youth to get ahead in an environment of massive inequality,” adding, “it is incredibly clever – either such loans breed loyalty or Boko Haram use mafia style tactics to trap and force young people to join them.”
According to the latest statistics released by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, six in ten Nigerians live in absolute poverty, on less than one dollar a day, a figure which rises to three quarters of the population in the northeastern region of the country. Many young people told Mercy Corps that they would struggle without the support of powerful “godfathers” to provide capital for their businesses, or cash transfers for equipment and goods. Mercy Corps, which conducted interviews with 145 people including young former Boko Haram members, family of former members and youths who resisted joining, has reported that Bok Haram has therefore been able to fill a critical gap in financial services.
The report has called for increased access to financial and business services, more support for conflict-hit communities and greater efforts to reintegrate people who have fled the militant group.
On Monday (8 February), African forces began a US-led counter-terrorism training programme in Senegal, which is aimed at what a US commander said were rising signs of collaboration between Islamist groups across northern Africa and the Sahel region.
The annual “Flintlock” exercises began only weeks after an attack in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, which left thirty people dead. The assault on the hotel used by foreigners raised concerns that militants were expanding from a stronghold in northern Mali, towards stable, Western allies, such as Senegal. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters claimed responsibility for the attack, which is just one of several increasingly bold regional strikes that have occurred in the Sahel region. Speaking to reporters on Monday, US Commander for Special Operations Command Africa Brigadier General Donald Bolduc indicated that increased collaboration between militant groups effectively meant that they have been able to strengthen and strike harder in the region. According to General Bolduc, “we have watched that collaboration manifest itself with ISIS becoming more effective in North Africa, Boko Haram becoming more deadly in the Lake Chad Basin (and) AQIM adopting asymmetrical attacks…against urban infrastructure.” He further noted that cooperation has increased as the so-called Islamic State (IS/ISIS) group exploited a power vacuum in Libya to expand its self-declared caliphate, which takes up large areas in Syria and Iraq. He added that “we know in Libya that they (AQIM and ISIS) are working more closely together. Its more than just influence, they (AQIM) are really taking direction from them.” He also stressed the importance of regional cooperation and intelligence-sharing, adding that the United States would help Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria set up a joint intelligence center by the middle of next year. The US already supports a regional task force against Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram. However not all security experts agree that there are emerging alliances between Islamist militant groups, with some arguing that competition between groups has led o more attacks.
This year’s programme, which opened on a dusty airstrip in Senegal’s central city of Thies, involves around 1,700 mostly African special operation forces. Western partners are also participating in the programme, including forces from France and Germany, which are amongst more than thirty countries that are participating. The attacks in Ouagadougou, coupled with a hotel attack in the Malian capital of Bamako in November 2015, have led to a greater emphasis on preparing for urban attacks this year through training to increase cooperation between police and military forces. At the request of African partners, this year’s exercises will also include anti-Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) training. The programme, which has been an annual event since 2005, will run from 8 February until 29. Some exercises will also be held in Mauritania.
Last week, an African Union (AU) official reported that funding for a multinational force to combat Boko Haram’s deadly Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa remains well short of its target.
In comments made shortly after a meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss funding, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council disclosed that so far, including Nigeria, Switzerland and France, have pledged about US $250 million to fund the 8,700-strong regional force. According to Orlando Bama, communications officer for the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, the US $250 million includes both previous pledges and those made during Monday’s conference. That effectively covers just over a third of the US $700 million budget that was announced for the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) last year.
The task force, which is to be made up of regional African militaries, has yet to mobilize. Instead, national armies are tackling Boko Haram individually, however they often cannot follow the insurgency across the region’s long, porous borders. Regional armies from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria mounted an offensive against the insurgents last year, which ousted them from many positions in northern Nigeria. The United States has also sent troops to supply intelligence and other assistance, however progress has been slow, with Boko Haram continuing to have the capabilities to launch deadly attacks both inside Nigeria, as well as in the Lake Chad Basin.
Monday’s talks come after the militant group’s latest attack, which killed at least 65 people in northeastern Nigeria on Saturday.
On Saturday, a least 65 people were killed during an attack by Islamist militant group Boko Haram near the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri.
Security officials have disclosed that the remains of a dozen victims were burnt beyond recognition in Saturday’s attack when militants opened fire on residents, set fire to houses and targeted a crowd with suicide bombers. A Nigerian military spokesman, Colonel Mustapha Ankas, disclosed that Boko Haram militants attacked the community of Dalori, which is located about 5 kilometres (3 miles) east of Maiduguri in Borno state. He added that the insurgents entered Dalori in two cars and on motorcycles and opened fire on residents and burned down houses. Saturday’s incident was the third attack this week suspected to have been carried out by the insurgent group. It is also the most deadly.
Since it began loosing control of territory, Boko Haram has reverted to hit-and-run attacks, targeting villages as well as suicide bombings on places of worship or markers.
On Friday, in neighboring Adamawa state, a suicide bomber believed to be a Boko Haram militant killed ten people and at least 12 were killed on Wednesday in an attack that targeted the Borno state village of Chibok, from where over 200 schoolgirls were abducted in 2014.
In recent months, the number of deadly attacks carried out by Islamic extremists has increased across Africa, which has prompted questions about the resurgence of armed groups that operate in the region.
- 21 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab fighters stormed and took over a beachfront restaurant in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. When the siege was over, more than 20 people had been killed in the attack.
- 15 January 2016 – Gunmen stormed a café popular with foreigners in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. They fired at people and set the café ablaze and then attacked a nearby hotel. At least thirty people were killed after a more than 12-hour siege. The North African branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility, stating that fighters from al-Murabitoun, an affiliated terror group, had carried out the assault.
- 15 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked an African Union (AU) base in Somalia, killing an unknown number of Kenyan peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab has since claimed that it killed about 100 Kenyans, adding that they had also captured several soldiers. Kenyan authorities have not released a death toll. Kenya has provided a major contingent to the AU force that is fighting al-Shabaab and assisting the elected government of Somalia.
- 28 December 2015 – Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck a city and a town in northeastern Nigeria with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers. At least eighty people were killed in Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno.
- 20 November 2015 – Islamic extrmeists seized dozens of hostages at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako. At least twenty people were killed along with two gunmen during the more than seven-hour siege. AQIM and al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was their first joint attack.