Could Nigeria Be the Next Front in the War on Terror?

A much underreported story in the press recently was the UN bombing in Abuja, Nigeria by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. Also known as the Nigerian Taliban, the Muslim group was founded in response to what its founders saw as the westernization of Nigeria, Islam and, specifically, education.

The event was significant in many aspects, but like so many other important global affairs, goes underreported or completely ignored.

Preliminary investigations so far have concluded the following: according to UN security chief, a bomb, probably around 100 pounds, was detonated by a suicide bomber under the reception area of the UN building, only after speeding down the “long driveway,” gathering enough speed to crash through two barriers. An unarmed guard was run over and killed after trying to flag down and stop the speeding suicide bomber. Twenty-three people were killed and seventy-three more were injured in this barbaric attack.

Alleged members of Boko Haram almost immediately claimed responsibility:

“Through the wisdom of Allah, we have launched the attack with absolute precision,” a man who identified himself as Abu Darda told a reporter in Kano on Friday. “We have said it several times that the U.N. is one of our prime targets.” Another man claiming to be a spokesman for Boko Haram, Mallam Abu Kaka, in a telephone conference call on Saturday with reporters in Maiduguri, blamed the United States. “The U.S. government has been collaborating with the Nigerian government to clamp down on our members nationwide,” he said. Both men warned that more attacks were imminent.

While it still has not been verified that those two men were Boko Haram members, Nigeria’s Department of State Services hasapparently already found the culprit:

“Investigation has revealed that one Mamman Nur, a notorious Boko Haram element with al Qaeda links who returned recently from Somalia, working in concert with the two suspects, masterminded the attack on the United Nations building in Abuja,” the Department of State Services said in a statement on Wednesday.

It did not give details of how it came to this conclusion, beyond mentioning that the two suspects in detention before the bombing, which killed 23 people, had given “valuable statements.”

“We implore … the general public to cooperate with security agencies by providing useful information that could lead to the arrest of Mamman Nur, who is hereby declared wanted,” it said.

This attack marks the first by Boko Haram against a non-Nigerian target. Typically, the group attacks police and government officials. This time, however, the group began to diversify and has gone international, in a sense. Not only has Boko Haram gone international, but they’ve struck at the core of the status quo, world order: the UN.

The international flavor that Boko Haram has all of the sudden developed a taste for, as well as their increasingly sophisticated attacks, have led some to believe that the group is in contact with or actively working with al-Qaeda. General Carter Ham, the commander of operations in Africa and, consequently, the director of the Libyan war effort, has said that he has several sources that tell him that Boko Haram has made contacts with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group. A Nigerian diplomat in Kenya said that 19 members of Boko Haram had stayed with an al-Shabaab commander in Mogadishu in late 2010. Neither of these statements, nor the Department of State Service’s, have been corroborated or independently verified, so their veracity is in question. General Ham said of the possibility of those three groups working with one another, “I think it would be the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well.”

Such language from high level military brass, as well as Boko Haram’s supposed affiliation with arguably the two most important terrorist groups at the moment–AQIM because of Libya and al-Shabaab because of the drought and the recent American offensive against them–are ominous signs for Nigeria. The US has shown itself to be willing to go literally anywhere if a threat against the US, real or otherwise, emerges. This is especially the case if that country happens to have valuable resources, particularly oil. Lest it’s forgotten, Nigeria is the fifth biggest exporter of oil to the United States. Boko Haram has not, however, shown a willingness to strike in the oil rich, Christian south.

The story continues to get even more interesting and is where the media has dropped the ball yet again. Tucked away in a Washington Post article is a mention of FBI agents on the ground to “assist” the investigation. Deb Maclean, the spokeswoman who came forward with this information, decided to not elaborate any further. What Maclean and the FBI call assisting has many heads in Nigeria spinning.

The Punch, “Nigeria’s most widely read newspaper,” ran a bombshell story that will undoubtedly make President Goodluck Jonathan blush:

OPERATIVES of the United States’ domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have taken over the investigations of Friday’s bombing of the UN building in Abuja.

Sources told THE PUNCH that the FBI agents probing the bombing had sidelined investigators from the Nigeria Police and the State Security Service.

A source in one of the security agencies, who requested anonymity, said the takeover had the support of the Federal Government. The source added that the government might have lost confidence in the Police, SSS and other security agencies for their alleged failure to halt the bombings in the country.

It’s not clear whether the Nigerian government sought the help of the United States, but complaints about the competency of the State Security Service by government officials give a lot of credence to accusations by PUNCH.

Later in the article, PUNCH notes that the FBI has been involved in Nigerian investigations before, specifically from the October 1, 2010 bombings onward. A cable released by Wikileaks back in December exposed that the US had actionable intelligence concerning Boko Haram. If the US has done this before, what’s all the fuss about?

First, it appears that the US has genuinely hijacked the Nigerian led investigation of this bombing. Second, the rapid and overblown response by the US comes a mere two weeks after General Ham made apocalyptic statements about Boko Haram. And finally, the rapid conclusion reached by the Department of State Services is worthy of several questions: was this reached independent of the FBI? If not, what was the extent of American involvement? If the damning evidence was really gathered from two detainees before the attack, why was the attack not prevented? Incompetence or willful ignorance? Was it gathered through unsavory means, such as torture, or did the detainees come clean?

Many unanswered questions remain, but such heavy handed involvement by the US is a very unsettling development. Could the US be on its way to significant anti-terrorism “operations” in Nigeria, or is this just a one time thing? Only time will tell, but Nigeria and Boko Haram are certainly worth watching.

  • Akinsope

    It’s better we burn our oil wells than have US troops on the ground.

    Boko haram will be defeated, they are another end product of W Bush’s unfinished wars.

  • thedissenter

    That would be consistent. I don't have a map of Africa in front of me but if Nigeria is anywhere the ME, then, that would be a YES. Even tough oil wouldn't be the goal since Shell has already decimated Nigeria and Big Pharma used Nigerian children as guinea pigs. They have done to Nigeria the same thing they did to Somalia and are about to abandon ship. However, the USan Empire is running out of virgin territory real fast and seems to be recycling old playgrounds.