Nigeria's Bloody Easter
Jihadist groups are working to expand their reach in Africa
Wall Street Journal
April 13, 2012
Terror attacks on Christian holidays have become commonplace in Nigeria, but the violence this Easter illustrates how deadly and widespread the threat has become.
A car bomb in the central city of Kaduna killed at least 36 people Sunday in an attack that appeared to target churchgoers. Hours later an explosion caused injuries in the city of Jos, 125 miles to the southeast. On Monday a shootout with security officers killed four in the northeastern town of Potiskum.
No groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, but lately most of the near-daily religious violence in Nigeria can be traced to Islamist terror outfit Boko Haram, which has killed nearly 1,000 people since July 2009, according to Human Rights Watch. The group's name means "Western education is sin" in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria. Its aim is to establish Shariah law throughout the country, the population of which is split between the Muslim north and the mostly Christian south.
People gather at the site of a bomb explosion at a road in Kaduna, Nigeria.
Boko Haram formed in 2002 as a local Salafist activist group, but evidence suggests that it now collaborates and shares intelligence with al Qaeda affiliates in the region, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Shabaab in Somalia. The groups have been able to carry out increasingly sophisticated attacks on schools, churches, police stations and military bases.
They may also be working to expand their reach. The Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, published a report this month showing that al Qaeda is using its African partnerships to regroup and extend its propaganda and recruiting efforts, including in Britain. U.S. Congressmen Peter King and Patrick Meehan wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month urging the State Department to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization for legal and intelligence-gathering purposes.
In January, the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission met and agreed to deepen the two countries' collaboration on security issues—but little else. Commission delegates arrived in Abuja days after coordinated explosions killed some 200 people in the northern city of Kano.
With several towns along the north-south fault line sliding toward all-out guerrilla war, Nigeria is only the most visible in a cluster of African countries now under jihadist attack. Western policy makers already have trouble keeping pace with the evolving threats in Pakistan, Yemen and Libya. Their focus will soon have to widen to West Africa as well.