Al-Qaida turns Boko Haram deadly

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Officials believe Nigerian insurgents getting training from terrorist group

By David Blair, Daily Telegraph And Agence France-Presse
Nigerians examine the damage Tuesday after a blast hit the Gombomru local market on Monday in Maiduguri, a town regarded as Boko Haram's base.
 

Nigerians examine the damage Tuesday after a blast hit the Gombomru local market on Monday in Maiduguri, a town regarded as Boko Haram’s base.

Photograph by: Reuters, Daily Telegraph And Agence France-Presse

Al-Qaida operatives in North Africa have helped to transform Boko Haram into a terrorist group capable of killing hundreds in sophisticated attacks.
The radical Islamist group, based in northern Nigeria, once specialized in robbing banks and attacking defence-less Christian congregations. In the past six weeks, however, its gunmen or suicide bombers have struck 21 times, killing at least 253 people.
This transformation has come about partly because of the help Boko Haram has received from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a branch of the international terrorist network based in the Saharan states of Mali, Niger and Algeria.
Boko Haram demonstrated its new potency on Jan. 20, when at least 100 of the movement’s fighters executed eight assaults in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, overwhelming security forces and killing 185 people. This operation bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaida: a mixture of suicide bombers and gunmen, some in police or army uniform, carried out multiple, carefully coordinated attacks on hard targets.
Boko Haram destroyed two police stations and the regional police head-quarters, and damaged the local office of the State Security Service, Nigeria’s version of CSIS.
Al-Qaida’s influence was also evident from the choice of weapons: car bombs exploded outside some targets, while police found caches of “improvised explosive devices,” with detonators and shrapnel packed into soft drink cans.
Since then, Boko Haram has kept up the momentum, launching night raids on two more police stations in Kano.
On Tuesday, explosions rocked an army barracks, a bridge and an air-base in Kaduna in a set of coordinated attacks quickly claimed by Boko Haram.
According to the military, one blast went off after soldiers opened fire on a car as a bomber dressed in a military uniform sought to force his way onto the grounds at the barracks in Kaduna, a major city in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north. Multiple military sources have insisted the driver was the only person killed.
Bombs planted on a bridge and near an airbase also went off. Several passengers on transit buses crossing the bridge were reported injured.
In the northeastern city of Maiduguri, seen as Boko Haram’s base, residents reported a series of blasts at a market on Monday evening that set fire to several vehicles and shops.
Officials and experts in the Nigerian capital of Abuja are convinced Boko Haram has learned its new capabilities from AQIM. Niger, a key operating theatre for AQIM, shares a largely unmarked frontier with Nigeria, spanning 1,500 kilometres of desert and scrub.
Boko Haram probably has little need for weapons or money as its fighters are accomplished bank robbers and when-ever they raid a police station, they usually empty the armoury. AQIM’s contribution is most likely to be in tactics and expertise, with Boko Haram fighters taken out of Nigeria for training.
While the country has a long history of political and religious violence, experts point to the novelty of Boko Haram’s techniques.
“Suicide bombing was, until recently, something we saw in the movies,” said Chinedu Nwagu, a security analyst from the Cleen Foundation, which monitors Nigeria’s justice system. “People never thought that anybody here would do that.”
The Kano attacks, he added, showed a degree of “coordination that you would not just pick up without very specialized training.”
Abubakar Tsav, a former Nigerian police commissioner, said: “They [Boko Harim] clearly have some connections with outsiders.” Once, Boko Haram would steer clear of the security forces and strike largely undefended targets. Today, its fighters frequently outclass and outgun their opponents.
“Their weapons and tactics are clearly superior to those used by the Nigerian police,” said Yahaya Ibrahim Shinko, a retired Nigerian army officer and security analyst.
If AQIM has passed on training and expertise, it may also transmit al-Qaida’s world view and its international targets. Britain, which is home to an estimated 150,000 Nigerians, could be vulnerable. So far Boko Haram’s agenda has been entirely domestic and there is no evidence the leadership aims to strike outside the country.
“Boko Haram is very inviting for whatever influences there might be out there,” Nwagu said.

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