Friday, November 15, 2013

Boko Haram crosses into Cameroon

Two days ago--on November 13, 2013--the United States Department of State officially designated Boko Haram and Ansaru as "Foreign Terrorist Orgamizations." From State's press release:
The Department of State has announced the designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended, and as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224. Boko Haram is a Nigeria-based militant group with links to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that is responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians. Also operating in Nigeria, Ansaru is a Boko Haram splinter faction that earlier in 2013 kidnapped and executed seven international construction workers...

Boko Haram has been conducting an ongoing and brutal campaign against Nigerian military, government, and civilian targets. Among its most lethal attacks, Boko Haram carried out indiscriminate attacks in Benisheikh, Nigeria in September 2013 that killed more than 160 innocent civilians, including women and children. Boko Haram has also conducted attacks against international targets, including a suicide bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja on August 26, 2011, that killed 21 people and injured dozens more, many of them aid workers supporting development projects across Nigeria.

Ansaru’s attacks have focused on Nigerian military and Western targets. In November 2012, Ansaru raided a police station in Abuja, killing Nigerian police officers and freeing detained terrorists from prison. Also in January 2013, Ansaru attacked Nigerian security services when its members ambushed a convoy of Nigerian peacekeepers. Ansaru has also conducted several kidnappings of foreigners living or working in Nigeria.
Father Vandenbeusch. Source: France24.
On that very same day, Boko Haram members in northeast Nigeria crossed the border into Cameroon and abducted a French priest--one Father Georges Vandenbeusch--from his church in the small town of Nguetchewe. As of yet, Boko Haram has made no demands, nor offered any explanation for their actions. But it's easy enough to grasp their motivations: as I noted in a recent piece, Ansaru, the Boko Haram splinter group also designated as an FTO, that is apparently tasked with financing Boko Haram operations via kidnappings and the like has become more closely linked with elements of AQIM--Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb--which has a heavy presence in Mali.

The continued involvement by the French government in Malian affairs is likely the reason for this targeting, along with the fact that the priest was an easy target, as many so-called "experts" are of the opinion that Boko Haram activities are largely restricted to Nigeria, proper. As the above article--from France24--notes, AQIM members have recently claimed responsibility for murdering two French journalists. The dots here are, in my opinion, obvious and easy to connect, something that I also did in another piece. Boko Haram to Ansaru to AQIM, all are operating in concert to some degree.

Once upon a time, Boko Haram was an independent organization, concerned only with establishing control over Nigeria and in eliminating all westerners and western practices in the region it controls. This is no longer the case. While it was hoped that the break-off of Ansaru indicated a weakening of Boko Haram, this turnes out not to be the case, at all. Regardless of whether or not the initial impetus for the splintering was true disagreement, Ansaru now represents a substantial link between Boko Haram and AQIM. As major leaders of both Boko Haram and Ansaru have been caught or killed, new leaders have stepped in, leaders who are far less independent-minded, when it comes to relations with AQIM.

We often hear how al Qaeda is on the run, has been severely weakened, particularly after the death of Osama bin Laden, but the fact of the matter is that al Qaeda--in the form of AQIM--is growing stronger, is slowly uniting various terrorist organizations across northern Africa, bringing them all under the umbrella of its control.

What makes this all so troubling is that many of these orgs--like Boko Haram--have their own goals, apart from AQIM's. Thus, they are unpredictable, insofar as they may be serving their own needs one day and those of AQIM the next. Again, looking just at Boko Haram, notice how it has gone from slaughtering college students--in keeping with its opposition to any western education in Nigeria--to kidnapping a French priest in Cameroon, a move that serves AQIM's interests in Mali. What will it do next? Who knows.

Equally troubling is the response of the international community, including the United States. Boko Haram has been engaged in terroristic activites for years, including the wholesale slaughter of innocents. Yet the State Department is just now designating it an FTO? Why? What took
so long? Was there some question about Boko Haram's motivations until just recently?

Unfortunately, I fear the lack of a response here is a consequence of two things:

1) There remains a large-scale apathy in the world community, with regard to events in Africa. The problems there are just not given the attention they deserve.

2) Leaders in the United States and in other European nations simply do not want to admit that al Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist groups are growing in strength. They want to--for political reasons--play down the threat.

But the threat is both real and growing. And events in Africa deserve far more attention than they are getting. If the world--or the United States--fails to respond, to really take note of what is going on, northern Africa will be unrecognizable within a decade, I'll wager.

Cheers, all.

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