Al Qaeda ties feared in U.N. build­ing bomb­ing in Nige­ria

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY SHAUN WA­TER­MAN

An al Qaeda North African af­fil­i­ate group likely trained the ter­ror­ists who car­ried out the deadly sui­cide at­tack on the U.N. head­quar­ters in Nige­ria.

A sui­cide bomber drove a car packed with ex­plo­sives through a se­cu­rity bar­rier and into the lobby of the U.N. head­quar­ters build­ing in Abuja, the Nige­rian po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on Aug. 26, killing 23 peo­ple and wound­ing 76 more.

A Nige­rian Mus­lim ex­trem­ist group called Boko Haram took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack, and a U.S. of­fi­cial said in­tel­li­gence re­port­ing re­vealed that mem­bers of the group had trained at al Qaeda camps in nearby Mali.

“Some Boko Haram mem­bers trained with AQIM [al Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb, the group’s North African af­fil­i­ate] which prob­a­bly con­trib­uted to this more vi­o­lent at­tack,” the of­fi­cial said, speaking on the con­di­tion of anonymity in dis­cussing in­tel­li­gence mat­ters.

Nige­rian news me­dia re­ported last week that some of those ar­rested in con­nec­tion with the bomb­ing at­tack were grad­u­ates of al Qaeda camps in Mali or of train­ing from the ex­trem­ist in­sur­gent group al Shabab in So­ma­lia.

The U.S. of­fi­cial de­clined to com­ment on the re­ports.

The Nige­rian gov­ern­ment has not made any of­fi­cial com­ments about the ar­rests, but Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan promised an over­haul of the coun­try’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, in­clud­ing, ac­cord­ing to one re­port, com­pul­sory bio­met­ric regis­tra­tion for all for­eign­ers liv­ing in the coun­try.

If the re­port that the bomb- ing was linked to ex­trem­ists trained in AQIM camps is con­firmed, it will be “an important data point,” said Andrew Le­bovich, a pol­icy an­a­lyst with the New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion.

“It is one of the pieces of hard ev­i­dence we have been wait­ing for” out­lin­ing links be­tween the Nige­rian group and the global ex­trem­ist net­work founded by Osama bin Laden, he said. But he cau­tioned that the ar­rest of train­ing-camp grad­u­ates “doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily tell us how ex­ten­sive or strong the link­ages are” be­tween the groups.

Ear­lier in Au­gust, after meet­ing se­nior Nige­rian of­fi­cials in Lagos, the com­man­der of the U.S. mil­i­tary’s Africa Com­mand, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, said “mul­ti­ple sources” of in­tel­li­gence in­di­cated there are grow­ing ties be­tween Boko Haram and AQIM and al Shabab.

“What is most wor­ry­ing at present is, at least in my view, a clearly stated in­tent by Boko Haram and by al Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb to co­or­di­nate and syn­chro­nize their ef­forts,” the gen­eral told As­so­ci­ated Press. “I’m not so sure they’re able to do that just yet, but it’s clear to me they have the de­sire and in­tent to do that.”

Mr. Jonathan is pur­su­ing talks with Boko Haram, but it is un­clear what the fu­ture of that ini­tia­tive is likely to be in the wake of the bomb­ing. If AQIM is in­deed be­hind the U.N. bomb­ing, the Nige­rian pres­i­dent may face pres­sure to break off his at­tempts at di­a­logue with the group. (The largest of its own at­tacks was the 2007 dou­ble­sui­cide car bomb­ing of an­other U.N. head­quar­ters, in Al­ge­ria.)

A suc­cess­ful en­try into Nige­ria by al Qaeda would rep­re­sent a new the­ater of war for the group in a coun­try that has one of the largest Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions and is one of the largest oil pro­duc­ers in the world. It also would be a much-needed boost to the ter­ror net­work, whose cen­tral lead­er­ship in Pak­istan has been reduced re­peat­edly by U.S. drone strikes.

Boko Haram means “Western ed­u­ca­tion is for­bid­den by Is­lam” in the Hausa di­alect, which is spo­ken in the ma­jor­i­tyMus­lim north of Nige­ria. The group, formed in 2003, ad­vo­cates the es­tab­lish­ment of a Tal­iban-like Is­lamic law regime in all of Nige­ria. It is ac­tive in sev­eral of the 12 north­ern states where some form of shariah, or Is­lamic ju­rispru­dence, is al­ready in force. About half of the pop­u­la­tion in this vast and di­verse coun­try of 155 mil­lion are Mus­lims and 40 are per­cent Chris­tian.

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