The Muslim jihadist group Boko Haram is eyeing a new offensive that would target Nigeria’s predominantly Christian south, according to Africa analysts.
Yan St-Pierre of the Berlin-based intelligence firm MOSECON, which monitors Boko Haram, said evidence indicates the group has been laying the groundwork for such a move.
“We call it national-park hopping. They’ve been using the national parks as cover for moves down south. This is what we expect them to be doing. They’re going where the money is in Nigeria,” St-Pierre said.
The targets are the nation’s oil and its centers of financial power: Port Harcourt, Kalaba, Lagos and Abuja.
“They’re very slowly setting up these places to operate while everyone focuses on the major attacks. They’re trying to go for the big homeland down south in Nigeria,” St-Pierre said.
International Christian Concern Africa analyst Cameron Thomas said Boko Haram attacks in the more populous south will inevitably produce more casualties.
“I see Boko Haram mounting a series of attacks in places like Abuja and Lagos with the potential to inflict a great many casualties,” Thomas said.
WND reported in April that one bomb attack near the Abuja bus station killed more than 100 people.
In the less-populated north, casualty counts have been smaller. Last week’s bomb blast in the northern city of Kano killed six people.
Free-flow of weapons
Along with MOSECON, which has been monitoring Boko Haram since 2009, other groups see signs of a southern offensive.
One sign is the movement of weapons into Nigeria.
Islamic terrorism finance analyst A.D. Kendall said weapons are freely flowing into the country.
“Gunrunning from the Sudan and Central African Republic into Nigeria to arm the jihadist group Boko Haram is destabilizing the entire region,” his report said. “Cameroon has had to deploy more forces to its northeastern region to contend with the rising tide of arms traffickers passing through Cameroonian territory.”
St-Pierre said his sources indicate Boko Haram’s recent cross-border raids into Cameroon were to maintain the flow of weapons.
“They’re using the border crossings and the attacks in Cameroon to protect their smuggling routes in Chad or Cameroon,” St-Pierre said.
St-Pierre said his sources report the raids to protect the smuggling routes were accompanied by a series of diversionary bombings. The attacks resulted in more than 100 casualties, bringing the year’s death toll to approximately 3,000.
St-Pierre said the cross-border raids to secure the supply routes and the high-profile bombings were diversions to distract attention from Boko Haram’s long-term objective.
“They’ve been using IEDs and causing lots of damage and many casualties. All the evidence points to the group expanding its operations. They’re going south now,” St-Pierre said.
Rachel Ehrenfeld, executive director of the American Center for Democracy and its Economic Warfare Institute agrees: “They are trying to do just that.”
Thomas also estimates that if Boko Haram moves into the south, resistance will strengthen.
“If they decide to wage a major offensive in the south, that will have a rallying effect,” Thomas said.
Thomas said Boko Haram will carry out the attacks to encourage retaliation against them.
“Resistance to Boko Haram will increase and so will the number of counteroffensives. That way they can claim it’s us versus them and say that Islam is under attack. This is a rallying cry to call for other Islamic groups to come to their aid,” he said.
“So, I see any moves in the south as a way to draw support from foreign militants and get potential sympathizers from countries in the area to fight with them,” Thomas said.
Whether it’s a full scale offensive or a series of attacks, analysts still believe the cross-border operations in Cameroon will play a significant role in any future Boko Haram actions.
A military analyst who asked not to be named for security reasons believes Boko Haram has a second reason for securing the supply and smuggling routes.
“Boko Haram could be planning to use the Cameroon smuggling routes for a flank attack on the south if the direct push isn’t successful. They could easily maneuver into the south from the routes they’ve established through Cameroon,” the military analyst said.
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