A new jihadist organization is threatening America’s homeland. But these upstarts aren’t your typical extremists from the Middle East; Boko Haram’s holy warriors hail from Nigeria’s northern badlands.
Two years ago, US intelligence agents described Boko Haram as a local Salafist group attacking Christians and local police stations with machetes and poison tipped arrows in Nigeria’s Northeastern Borno state. By November 2011, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence had issued a report stating that “Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to US interests and the US homeland.” That quantum leap was magnified by the report’s recommendation that “The Secretary of State should conduct an investigation into whether Boko Haram should be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).”
The Committee’s motive in calling for Boko Haram’s designation as an FTO is obvious. Boko Haram would become an “official target” in President Obama’s war on terror, and subject to all the emoluments embedded in his counterinsurgency doctrine: kidnapping, torture, assassinations and drone strikes. In short, the US is preparing to conduct an “off-line war” in Nigeria. Thus, the congressional report begs the question; just who is Boko Haram? Why is Congress seeking to expand the “war on terrorism” to Nigeria, and what threat does Boko Haram pose to America’s “homeland?”
Suckled on the heady wine of the Hanbali School of Islam, Boco Haram started as a religious study group in the 1990’s in predominately Muslim Northern Nigeria. Translated in the Hausa language, Boko Harem means “western education is sacrilege.” Its leader, Mohammed Yusef dubbed the group the “Nigerian Taliban,” and from 2002-2009 they launched a low-level insurgency across four northern Nigerian states. After Yusef was killed in the 2009 uprising that claimed 700 lives, the group went underground. Eventually, Yusef’s lieutenant, Imam Abubakar Shekau, claimed control of the sect, and led new attacks on the government. Supported by criminal gangs and Northern politicians opposed to President Goodluck Johnathan, Boko Haram has called for a Sharia state. BH presents itself as the anecdote to decades of Christian discrimination, government corruption and the grinding poverty imposed on Northern Nigeria by the oil-rich south.
In August 2011, Boko Haram expanded their operations outside of Northern Nigeria, bombing the police headquarters in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja. Two months later they pulled off a daring suicide bomb attack on the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, killing 23 people. In a video recorded before the UN attack, the suicide bomber said the action was designed to “send a message to the U.S. President and ‘other infidels.” That got America’s attention. On Christmas Day, 2011, BH capped off the jihadist surge with a series of 20 coordinated bomb attacks against Christian churches.
Boko Harem’s growth from localized machete assaults to sophisticated high-tech bombings targeting the citadels of western imperial power can be easily explained; Boko Haram is now the Al Queda franchise in Nigeria. In the weeks ahead, US intelligence agents will produce “evidence” that BH members received specialized explosives training from Somalia’s Al Shabaab, and financial and logistical support from AQIM (Al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb). Indeed, AQIM has issued statements supporting Boko Haram and allowed BH to disseminate messages through their new media wing, Al Andulus.
As for expanding the war of terror to Nigeria, Boko Haram poses an existential threat to America’s most important client-state in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, the worlds’ ninth largest oil exporter, and maintains the largest army of peacekeeping forces on the continent. For the US, Nigeria is big to fail.
Although, the US national security experts don’t have a scintilla of evidence that Boko Haram is planning attacks on American soil, the intelligence community insist that BH poses a significant threat to the homeland. What they mean is that the two million Nigerian’s living in the US pose a significant internal risk to take up BH’s call. After the failed 2009 Christmas Day airline attack by Nigerian Al Queda sympathizer Umar Abdul Mutallab in Detroit, the national security establishment isn’t taking any chances. As Committee Chairman, Rep. Patrick Meehan said, the 911 Commission concluded that the biggest failure in preventing the attacks “was the failure of imagination.” We shall see.