A large part of northern and central Nigeria is now at the mercy of intensified attacks by Boko Haram, and the group seems to be embarking on a new phase of its campaign against the Nigerian state — piling further pressure on the government of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The last four days have seen devastating bomb attacks in Jos, in central Nigeria, as well as a suicide bombing in Kano – the largest city in the north. Two more villages in the state of Borno, Boko Haram’s stronghold in the northeast, came under attack, with at least 30 civilians killed. There have also been two bomb attacks in the federal capital, Abuja, in the last five weeks.
What alarms analysts is the way Boko Haram and its supporters are able to carry out multiple attacks on targets far apart, all within days of each other. Jos and Kano are more than 300 miles from Borno.
The double car-bomb attack against a market in Jos on Tuesday, which killed 118 people, according to the National Emergency Management Agency, is typical of its strategy beyond Borno: to strike soft targets in places where sectarian tensions are already high, with massive force. The use of two bombs some 30 minutes apart copied an al Qaeda tactic.
Jacob Zenn, a long-time observer of Boko Haram, says its aim is likely to stretch Nigeria’s beleaguered security forces, possibly by combining with another Islamic militant group: Ansaru.
“In 2012, one of Boko Haram’s goals was to launch attacks in the Middle Belt and southern Nigeria via the Ansaru networks – in order to spread Nigerian forces thin in Borno,” Zenn told CNN. “We may be seeing a similar tactic employed now.”
Zenn says Ansaru networks carried out more than 15 bombings in Jos, Kaduna and Abuja between 2010 and 2012, even though the attacks were attributed to Boko Haram. Those networks, he believes, have now been reactivated.
Zenn, an analyst at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, says Boko Haram recruits who have trained in Borno – disaffected young Muslims from across the Middle Belt region – may be returning home to “carry out attacks against their enemies — whether rival Christians or the government.”
John Campbell, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and now a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that Ansaru seems to be reappearing but adds that little is known about the group and its leadership.
What is known is that Boko Haram and Ansaru have plenty of money to recruit and finance operatives — through bank robberies and kidnappings.
Campbell says Boko Haram has become adept at bank robberies and stealing weapons from government armories.
SOURCE: Tim Lister