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.
On 15 January, Sierra Leone officials confirmed a death of Ebola, just hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the latest West Africa outbreak over.
According to an Ebola test centre spokesman, tests on a person who died in northern Sierra Leone proved positive. Sidi Yahya Tunis disclosed that the death occurred earlier this week and that the patient had died in the Tonkolili district, adding he had travelled there from Kambia, which is located close to the border with Guinea. The victim was a 22-year-old female student. According to district medical officer Augustine Junisa, “the victims was taken ill when she was on holidays in Bamoi Luma and was taken to Magburaka, where her relatives took her to the government hospital for medical attention…Three days later she died at home and her death was reported to the hospital officials and initial swap test was taken which proved positive.” Sources have reported that health officials are now urgently seeking those who had come into contact with the victim.
Sierra Leone was declared free of the virus on 7 November 2015, and the region as a whole was cleared when Liberia was pronounced Ebola-free on 14 January. While the WHO has warned that flare-ups are expected, Friday’s announcement of a new case in the region is a setback for the area. Already, ten other flare-ups have taken place in areas where the spread of Ebola was thought to have ended, effectively raising new questions about WHO procedures in assessing whether the epidemic was really over. On Friday, the UN Health agency reported that Sierra Leone’s government was moving rapidly in order to contain the new threat, noting however that it was not immediately clear how the 22-year-old woman may have contracted Ebola as all known transmission chains in that country were halted in November.
Timeline of Ebola Epidemic in West Africa
Below are key dates in the latest Ebola epidemic, which is the worst outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever, which first surfaced in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to the latest toll released by the WHO, the epidemic has left more than 11,300 dead, mainly in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Almost 29,000 cases were reported during the outbreak.
Epidemic Starts in Guinea:
- December 2013: A one-year-old baby dies in southern Guinea and is later identified as “patient zero.” The virus remains localized until February 2014, when a care worker in a neighbouring province dies.
Ebola Begins to Spread in West Africa:
- 31 March 2014 – Two cases are confirmed by the WHO in Liberia, while on 26 May, Sierra Leone confirms its first case, to be followed in late July by Nigeria, in August by Senegal and in October by Mali. Senegal and Nigeria are declared free of Ebola in October 2014 while Mali is declared Ebola-free in January 2015.
Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone Cut Off From The World:
- 30 May 2015 – According to the aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola is “out of control.” The three worst-hit countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – declare measures that include states of emergency and quarantines. Many neighbouring states close their borders with the affected countries.
A ‘Public Health Emergency’:
- 8 August 2014 – The WHO declares Ebola a “public health emergency of international concern.” Four days later, it authorizes the use of experimental drugs in order to fight Ebola after an ethical debate. That day, a Spanish missionary infected in Liberia dies in Madrid, becoming the first European fatality.
Death in the US:
- 30 September 2014 – A Liberian man is hospitalized in the US state of Texas, effectively becoming the first Ebola infection to be diagnosed outside of Africa. He dies on 8 October.
- 6 October 2014 – A Spanish nurse in a Madrid hospital becomes the first person to be infected outside Africa. She is treated and released on 19 October.
Ebola Begins a Halting Retreat:
- 22 February 2015 – Liberia says it is lifting nationwide curfews and re-opening borders, as the epidemic begins to retreat.
- 26 February 2015 – The US ends its military mission in West Africa, where it deployed 2,800 soldiers in order to fight against Ebola. Soldiers were mainly deployed to Liberia.
Closing in on a Vaccine:
- 10 July 2015 – International donors pledge US $3.4 billion in order to help stamp out Ebola.
- 31 July 2015 – The WHO says an Ebola vaccine provided 100-percent protection in a field trial in Guinea, suggesting that the world is “on the verge of an effective Ebola vaccine.”
Hardest-hit Countries Emerge from the Epidemic:
- 9 May and 3 September 2015 – Liberia is declared Ebola-free by the WHO after no new cases were recorded for 42 days. However the declarations are followed by a resurgence of the virus. On 4 December, Liberia releases from hospital its last two known Ebola cases.
- 7 November 2015 – Sierra Leone is declared free of the outbreak by the WHO.
- 29 December – The WHO declares Guinea’s Ebola outbreak over, six weeks after the recovery of its last known patient, a three-week old girl who was born with the virus.
Aid agencies have reported that a series of suicide bombings in Lake Chad in recent months, which have all been blamed on Boko Haram insurgents, has hindered healthcare and aid delivery, effectively leaving tens of thousands of displaced people living in fear of further violence.
In early December, four female suicide bombers attacked the island of Koulfoua, killing at least fifteen people and injuring a further 130 in what is just the latest in a wave of bombings that prompted the Chadian government last month to declare a state of emergency in the Lake Chad region.
While Chad has been instrumental in forcing Boko Haram to cede territory earlier this year, ongoing operations in northeastern Nigeria have effectively forced Boko Haram militants to seek shelter elsewhere. Reports have indicated that while some have used the porous borders to slip into Cameroon, Chad and Niger in a bid to remain safe, experts believe that most militants are hiding on islands located on Lake Chad. The swampy maze of islands in the border areas between Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria has now become a main target for the militant Islamist group.
According to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), more than 50,000 people have been forced to leave their homes due to the violence and threat of further attacks, which has hampered the provision of supplies and healthcare to those in need. According to Federica Alberti, MSF head of mission in Chad, “living conditions were already poor and there was a lack of healthcare before the attack, which have left people living in fear,” further adding that “it is challenging to respond in the region because we know more attacks will happen, but do not know when and where, and we can’t go everywhere due to security constraints.” The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has also disclosed that new restrictions aimed at stopping attacks, such as bans on motorised canoes, enforced after the state of emergency was extended until March, have also hindered access for aid agencies.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has also disclosed that the violence in the region has disrupted livelihoods including fishing and farming, and has hit cross-border trade and markets, adding that this has left one in ten of those uprooted without enough to eat. According to Mary-Ellen McGroarty, WFP country director for Chad, “we are dealing with a harsh climate and environment in a region which has limited infrastructure and development…it is a humanitarian crisis on top of a development crisis.”
While Lake Chad countries, backed by Benin, have vowed to defeat Bok Haram by using members of an 8,700-strong regional task force, security sources have disclosed that there are growing sings that national armies are instead acting alone.
United States experts have recently warned that two extremists movements in Africa, which have affiliated themselves with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, could become a major threat on the continent if they come together and boost cooperation.
While for now, Islamist rebels who are operating in Libya and have proclaimed allegiance to IS, along with Boko Haram in Nigeria, have traded little more than praise over the Internet, along with probably some fighters and weapons. However experts are now warning that this could change and may develop into a regional threat. According to a former CIA analyst, “they could decide that instead of fighting to achieve their immediate local objective they decided to shift their focus and go after Western interests,” adding, “for instance, Boko Haram attacking the French soldiers of Barkhane, or the Americans in Cameroon.” The former refers to a French anti-terror operation that is currently taking place in the Sahel region of central Africa. While the former analyst noted that such cooperation could take place, he added that both groups are likely not yet there.
Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to IS earlier this year, and renaming itself Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), appears for now to be more of a rebranding move, which came as the group was forced out of territory, which it had previously held in northeastern Nigeria. Experts however are warning that it could also be a transition into a larger global jihadist agenda. Movements that are geographically isolated can benefit from adopting the initials, symbols and rhetoric of the most feared Islamist extremist organization in the world. Over this past year, IS has been able to hold large swathes of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, despite an ongoing coalition bombing campaign. Furthermore, it has also carried out deadly attacks in the region, including blowing up a Russian airliner over Egypt, and has inspired attacks on Civilians from Paris to London to California.
This move to a larger global jihadist agenda is already being seen within boko Haram, specifically in the attacks that it has carried out over the past few months, and in the way that it has begun to market itself. Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to IS and its renaming could enable the terrorist group to recruit foreign fighters. It is highly likely that Boko Haram has gained some advise on military tactics, as experts have noticed that despite ongoing military operations in northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram’s attacks have become increasingly coordinated. In turn, the latest Boko Haram videos released by the group are of a more professional quality then older videos. They also carry the insignia of IS. Sources have disclosed that while the numbers remains small, there are indications that the flow of fighters towards Africa has already begun. Last month, two young French people were arrested in Tunisia as they were trying to reach zones controlled by IS in neighbouring Libya. Furthermore, experts have reported that in the April edition of its magazine, Dabiqu, IS called on volunteers to consider joining Boko Haram “if you can’t join the caliphate.”
In Libya, experts have noted that groups that have professed loyalty to IS have expanding rapidly, with some increasing their numbers from 200 to 2,000 members over the past year. Their growing power, fuelled by the post-Kadhafi political and security chaos that currently exists across Libya, has resulted in great concern for European officials. One expert has noted that if ties between Boko Haram and IS evolve further, this could develop into Boko Haram militants being trained in Libya, if IS gains further ground in the country.