Sunday, January 01, 2012

Nigeria's Boko Haram is threat to US

Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram have threatened the US embassy in the wake of their Christmas Day attack on a church in Madalla, Niger State which killed over 40 people. Nigerian newspaper The Moment said today the White House had intelligence reports indicating that the next target is the Lagos US diplomatic mission. The Moment said security analysts have advised US ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley to get local police to fortify security around all US diplomatic missions and investments in the country. (Photo: AFP)

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in four states (Borno, Yobe, Niger and plateau states) in the wake of the Christmas Day attack. Jonathan said what began as a sectarian crisis in the North East has gradually evolved into terrorist activities across the country. “The crisis has assumed a terrorist dimension with vital institutions of government including the UN Building and places of worship becoming targets of attacks,” he said. Jonathan also closed the borders adjacent to the four affected states.

Jonathan made the announcement on a visit to the Catholic Church in Madalla near the capital Abuja where 44 people were killed by a bomb as they were leaving a Christmas Day mass. During his address in the church, many worshippers cried uncontrollably, including two women who lost their husbands and four children in the attack. Parish priest, Reverend Father Isaac Achi, said the church had forgiven the attackers.“On behalf of the whole Christians in this country and Christ lovers… we have forgiven them from the bottom of our hearts,” he said. “We pray that such thing will not occur again in any place in this country.”

But others remain unhappy with the president. Nigerian newspaper The Nation said the governors of the affected states were annoyed they were not consulted in the president’s state of emergency. Some of the governors told the Nation the magnitude of the Boko Haram problem required collective effort. An unnamed governor said most of his colleagues were not happy being sidelined. “[Jonathan] has forgotten that whatever affects the nation is a collective burden we need to bear,” the Governor said. “"If governors are supposedly Chief Security Officers in their states, it presupposes that they must be part of solution to the spate of violence in the country.” The governors want a say in the choice of a new inspector general of police. Hafiz Ringim is due to retire within the next three months and the restructuring of police is central to Jonathan’s security overhaul to combat Boko Haram.

ND Danjobo from the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at the University of Ibadan said the rise of Boko Haram was related to the long-term failure of governance in Nigeria. Mohammed Yusuf, the movement’s founder was a Nigerian who was radicalised on Qur’an study visits to Chad and Niger. In Hausa language, the word “boko” can mean either “Western” or foreign; while the word “haram” is an Arabic derivative meaning “forbidden”. Yusuf wanted to forbid all Western influences and replace the modern state formation with the traditional Islamic state. His followers were school drop-outs and underemployed university graduates who believed that their hopelessness was caused by a government that imposed western education and failed to manage the resources of the country to the benefit of all.

Islamic Northern Nigeria has always been suspicious of western ways and there were major riots in 1980 against Christian interests that claimed 4,000 lives. The rise of Islamism elsewhere in the globe has strengthened hardliners and they were involved in a major outbreak of violence in 2009 with riots across six provinces and 1500 dead. Security forces killed 500 extremists in Borno alone. Despite, or perhaps because of the riots, Boko Haram enjoyed a wide spread of support within a short period of time. Yusuf was captured in 2009 and was "shot dead trying to escape". His followers treated his death as martyrdom and the group enjoyed renewed strength. In August 2011, Boko Haram attacked the UN headquarters in Abuja with a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, killing 23 people and injuring more than 80 others.

A US Committee on Homeland Security report of November 2011 said Boko Haram was a direct threat to the US developing alliances with Algerian-based Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb and Somali al Shabaab. The report said the US Intelligence community largely underestimated the potential for al Qaeda affiliate groups to target the Homeland, wrongly assessing they had only regional ambitions and threats against the US were merely “aspirational.” They urged increase its intelligence collection on Boko Haram, outreach with the Nigerian Diaspora in the US and better liaison with Nigerian security and counter-intelligence services.

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