NIGERIA’S BOKO HARAM ISSUES CONDITIONS AMIDST WAVE OF ISLAMIST VIOLENCE
A continuing wave of extremist violence sweeping northern Nigeria arrived in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on June 16, when a massive car bomb was only narrowly prevented from destroying the national police headquarters and most of the service’s senior leadership. The attack was the most shocking of an almost daily series of bombings, random murders and targeted assassinations being carried out by the largely Borno State-based Boko Haram movement (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 22, 2010; September 19, 2010).
The incident occurred when a Honda Civic began to follow closely behind a police convoy bringing the Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Abubakr Ringim, and a number of other important police officials to the Abjuja police headquarters. Thinking the vehicle was part of the convoy, guards allowed the Honda Civic into the compound. The two occupants of the car were allegedly carrying fake police identity cards. A quick-thinking traffic officer inside the compound diverted the car into a secondary lot, preventing it from exploding beside the building and likely preventing an enormous loss of life. As it was, the blast killed the attackers, the traffic policeman, three other men and destroyed some 40 cars immediately, with over 50 more incurring severe damage. The powerful blast broke windows and upended equipment throughout the seven-story police headquarters (Vanguard [Lagos], June 19). Examination of CCTV footage suggested that the car bomb may have been detonated by a timer or by remote control rather than being a suicide bombing (This Day [Lagos], June 20).
U.S. experts were called in to examine and identify the type of explosive used. A team of Abuja-based detectives raided a Boko Haram headquarters in the Borno capital of Maiduguri on June 20, arresting 58 suspects who were alleged to be celebrating the attack on the police headquarters. Among those arrested were a number of Somalis, Sudanese and Nigeriens. Some of the suspects claimed to have been coerced into Boko Haram membership (Nigerian Tribune, June 20).
Though the attackers failed to kill the police Inspector General, Ringim faced new problems after the bombing as many began to call for his resignation given his failure in preventing Boko Haram strikes (Nigerian Tribune, June 19). Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan is under pressure from some quarters to implement sweeping changes in the police leadership.
The report of foreign nationals being arrested in Maiduguri fueled growing suspicions in some quarters that the Abuja bombing was made possible by the infiltration of foreign militants and organizations such as al-Qaeda. Sudan, Somalia and Iran have all been mentioned as possible sources of funding for Boko Haram, though no evidence of such funding has emerged as yet (Business Day [Lagos], June 20). Security services have been asked to monitor Sudanese and Somali nationals throughout Nigeria (Vanguard, June 20). Others suspect local politicians are sponsoring the militants as a means of disrupting security after losing in the April elections (This Day, June 20).
Boko Haram extremism is even becoming a danger to Wahhabist clerics, such as Ibrahim Birkuti, who was killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen outside his home in Biu (200 km south of Maiduguri) on June 7. Imam Birkuti had been critical of Boko Haram’s violence (BBC, June 7). A sect spokesman recently said the group was also responsible for last month’s murder of the brother of the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai, one of Nigeria’s most important Islamic leaders. Boko Haram has accused the Shehu of playing a role in the extrajudicial killing of sect members following the July 2009 Boko Haram uprising. The Shehu has denied any role in the killings (BBC, June 7; Vanguard, June 17).
Other targets have been more predictable. On June 10, Boko Haram gunmen killed the pastor of the Church of Christ in Nigeria and the church’s assistant secretary in Maiduguri (Vanguard, June 10). Four people were killed in a Boko Haram raid on an unregistered drinking place in a suburb of Maiduguri on June 12 (Next, June 14). The attack on the Maiduguri beer drinkers came only a few hours after Boko Haram released a list of conditions that must be met before the group will enter into a dialogue with the government. The Hausa language demands included:
• Unconditional release of all imprisoned members of Boko Haram.
• The immediate prosecution of all those involved in the killing of Boko Haram leader Malam Muhammad Yusuf after he was taken into police custody in July 2009 (see Terrorism Monitor, March 26, 2010).
• An investigation into the alleged poisoning of Boko Haram suspects awaiting trial.
• Implementation of Shari’a in the twelve northern states of Nigeria. These states adopted Shari’a codes in 1999, but their current application is not strict enough to meet Boko Haram’s standards (Next, June 14).
More attacks followed the demands. Assailants on motorcycles sprayed a relaxation center in the Gomari district of Maiduguri with gunfire on June 19, killing five people (Next, June 20). On June 20, simultaneous attacks on a bank and a police station in Katsina by gunmen on motorcycles resulted in the deaths of five policemen and one private security guard. Boko Haram was a leading suspect in the attack, though their participation could not be confirmed (Daily Sun [Lagos], June 23). Unexploded bombs have also been found at a number of locations in the north (The Nation, June 14).
Boko Haram has clearly expanded its list of targets to now include Christians, traders from southern Nigeria, politicians, security officials, traditional leaders and Islamic clerics who dare to criticize the movement (This Day, June 17).
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has described a “carrot and stick approach” as the government’s policy in dealing with Boko Haram militants, saying he was open to dialogue with the group. Others have called for a general amnesty, as was applied to militants operating in the Niger River Delta (Next, June 19; Vanguard, June 20). Meanwhile, the government has begun to deploy a new Special Joint Military Task Force in Maiduguri. The task force will draw on security personnel from the military, police and state security services (Vanguard, June 19).
YEMEN’S SHAYKH SADIQ AL-AHMAR DESCRIBES ARMED SUPPORT FOR A “PEACEFUL REVOLUTION”
Once a main pillar of support for the regime of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, much of Yemen’s Hamid tribal confederation has now come out in open confrontation to Saleh’s teetering government. Complicating the new political alignment is the fact that President Saleh and his clan belong to “the people of al-Ahmar,” the most powerful family in the Hashid confederation. The leader of the Hashid, Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar, recently told a pan-Arab daily of the reasons for the Hashid’s political turnabout and described a path out of the current turmoil, while advising President Saleh not to return from his current hospitalization in Saudi Arabia.
Shaykh Sadiq is the oldest of ten sons of the late Shaykh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar (d. 2008), the former Hamid chief, Speaker of Parliament and a consistent supporter of the Saleh regime. In February, Shaykh Sadiq resigned from the ruling General People’s Congress. By March 20, Sadiq was calling for the president to resign from office peacefully (al-Jazeera, March 20).
While describing the support of the Hashid and other Yemeni tribes for the “Yemeni people’s peaceful revolution,” Shaykh Sadiq acknowledged that many of the Hashid continue to support the regime: “There are always individuals benefiting from the regime and its gifts and they are from the Hashid and other tribes.” As for those who have taken lives to defend the regime: “The blood is not forgotten until the killers are punished or pardoned by the victims’ families. Those involved are known to the Yemeni people.”
Nevertheless, Shaykh Sadiq asserts that the anti-regime protests are “a popular youth revolution and [an expression of] divine will.” He praised the discipline of the young people and tribesmen (who have ample access to weapons) in confronting the regime’s violent acts of repression “with bare chests.” However, Shaykh Sadiq has not hesitated to support the “peaceful revolution” with armed force when required. On May 24, intense fighting broke out in the al-Hasbah neighborhood of Sana’a between the shaykh’s tribal supporters and elements of the loyalist Republican Guard. The government responded to the clashes by issuing arrest warrants for all ten al-Ahmar brothers on charges of treason (al-Jazeera, May 26).
According to Shaykh Sadiq, the Hashid confederation abandoned its support of the president and his ambitious son, Ahmad Ali Saleh (commander of the Republican Guard) after it became apparent the regime was prepared to spill the blood of peaceful demonstrators to ensure the succession of the latter. This ended the sharat Mu’awiyah (Covenant of Mu’awiyah) between the Hashid leadership and the regime, which was intended to guarantee that the President’s son would not succeed him, much as the original covenant called for Mu’awiyah (602-680), the first Caliph of the Ummayad Dynasty, to refrain from appointing his son Yazid as his successor (a pledge the Caliph broke).
Threats to Yemen’s integrity from Southern secessionists and al-Qaeda militants were downplayed by the tribal leader in words that echoed accusations leveled by defecting General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar last week: “There are no fears of secession in Yemen or fears from al-Qaeda. All these are tribulations planned and propagated by the regime which turned them into a bogey” (for Ali Muhsin’s statement, see Terrorism Monitor Brief, June 17). The shaykh also believes that the political change promised by the revolution will succeed in meeting the demands of the Houthi rebels of north Yemen, as they are no different than the calls of other Yemenis for “stability, justice, security and development.”
Shaykh Sadiq would prefer to see a solution to the political crisis through the use of constitutional means (i.e. the succession of Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi in the absence of the president), rather than the establishment of a transitional council. Of the vice-president, a southerner who is unrelated to the governing clan, Sadiq says “all the Yemeni people’s sons and forces are with him. But it seems he is hesitant and we do not know the reason for his hesitation. We are in contact with him, support and back him if he leads Yemen to the shores of safety at this critical stage.”
The shaykh concluded by advising President Saleh not to return to Yemen: “If it does happen… the clashes will increase and the cycle of violence and killing between the Yemenis will widen.”