Tag Archives: Nigeria

Impact on Boko Haram Remains Unclear After Leader of Splinter Group is Arrested

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Nigeria’s security services have hailed the arrest of the leader of a Boko Haram splinter group Ansaru, Khalid al-Barnawi, stating that it will lead them to other senior Islamist commanders operating in the northern region of the country.

Barnawi, who has been designated a global terrorist by the United States since 2012, was detained on 1 April along with three others in Kogi state capital, Lokoja. During his arrest, he was found with four Thursday satellite phones, with a source indicating that the phones “provided several leads” to “high-profile Boko Haram and Ansaru elements” in the capital, Abuja, Lokoja and the central city of Jos. According to one security source, “the arrest of Barnawi is a huge success and will have a profound effect on counter-terrorism operations in Nigeria and beyond,” adding, “he is a known transnational terrorist and the backbone of all al-Qaeda affiliate groups in West Africa.” Another source further indicated that “this has been our biggest breakthrough against terrorism in Nigeria ever,” adding, “we still have other high-ranking terrorists on our radar based on the information gathered from the phones of Barnawi and his three comrades. We will rope them in at the right time.”

The capture of Barnawi is definitely a success for Nigerian intelligence, with the Department of State services (DSS) calling him “a trained terrorist commander” who also recruited for al-Qaeda affiliates. He is also accused of masterminding a string of kidnappings of Westerners between 2011 and 2013. In a statement released on 9 April, which accompanied a mug shot of Barnawi, the DSS disclosed that “this arrest is a major milestone in the counter-terrorism fight.”

While security analysts agree that he is the most high-profile capture since the start of the Islamist insurgency in 2009, it remains unclear what effect it will ultimately have on operations on the ground. Boko Haram has been severally affected by an aggressive fight back from the Nigerian military and since January, the militant group has lost territory and its capacity to mount conventional attacks. President Muhammadu Buhari has also gone so far as to say that the militants were “technically” defeated despite suicide and bomb attacks continuing in northeastern Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroon and Niger. However Barnawi’s arrest, who trained in Sudan, Afghanistan and with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is only part of a larger organization that continues to operate despite setbacks. Furthermore, Ansaru’s terrorist activities likely will not be affected by his capture.

There was also confusion last month when Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau indicated in a video that his time in charge of the group was running out. The video, however was following a week later but another one, which did not feature Shekau but which maintained that he was still in charge and dismissed any suggestion of surrender.

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Boko Haram Rejects Suggestions of Surrendering in Latest Video

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Boko Haram released a new video on Friday, 1 April denying any suggestions that it would surrender. The latest video comes just over a week after the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, appeared in a rare message looking dejected and frail.

Shekau, who was not seen on camera for more than a year, released an unverified video late last month, stating that his time in charge of the Nigerian jihadist group may be coming to an end. If the video indeed depicts Shekau, he appears thin and listless, delivering his message without his trademark fiery rhetoric. While last month’s video prompted speculation from the Nigerian army that the Islamist group was on the verge of collapse in the face of a sustained military counter-insurgency, in Friday’s newly released video, Boko Haram maintained that it was a potent fighting force, with fighters posing with AK-47s in front of Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks and a lorry mounted with a military cannon. In the video, which was posted on YouTube, an unidentified masked man wearing camouflage said in a prepared script in Hausa that “you should know that there is no truce, there is no negotiations, there is no surrender…This war between us will not stop.” The masked man in the video also stated the Shekau was still the head of the “West African wing,” likening Boko Haram to the Islamist insurgencies in Iraq, Libya and Syria. The video, which was markedly better quality than Shekau’s and which included Arabic subtitles, featured nine masked Boko Haram fighters standing on sandy ground in an undisclosed desert location. It remains unclear if the masked people in the video include Boko Haram’s leader.

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Rise in Child Bombers in Nigeria

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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.

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African Forces Begin US-led Counter-Terrorism Training in Senegal

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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.

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Funding Falls Short for Task Force to Fight Boko Haram Militants

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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.

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