UNCLAIMED NEW YEAR’S DAY BOMBING IN ABUJA RATTLES NIGERIA’S POWER STRUCTURE
A New Year’s Eve bombing within the confines of a Nigerian military base in the capital city of Abuja has damaged Nigeria’s political stability, as various politicians and civil leaders seek to implicate each other as responsible for the unclaimed blast. The bombing, which killed four civilians (including a pregnant woman) and wounded 26, was the second terrorist attack in the nation’s capital since October.
The attack targeted an open-air bar and restaurant at a so-called “Mammy Market,” a civilian-run market attached to Abuja’s “Mogadishu Cantonment” military base providing shopping and recreational opportunities. The explosion culminated a week of violence in Nigeria that began with a series of bombings on Christmas Eve in the Plateau State city of Jos, a common site for sectarian violence in recent years between the Muslim and Christian communities. Eighty people were killed in the Jos bombings and subsequent retaliatory attacks. This was followed by a bombing at a rally of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Yenogoa in Bayelsa State and murders and church burnings in Maiduguri in Borno State (Next [Lagos], January 4; Vanguard [Lagos], January 3; Daily Trust [Lagos], December 30, 2010).
On January 3 the government of President Goodluck Jonathan responded to the violence by holding an emergency closed-door meeting of the nation’s top security officials. Following the meeting, spokesmen announced a number of measures to be taken, including:
• The appointment of a special presidential advisor on terrorism.
• The installation of new closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in sensitive areas of Abuja, though existing CCTV installations proved of little use in the latest attack.
• New regulations regarding access to public and private establishments.
• The creation of a presidential committee on the control of explosives and
• The creation of a presidential committee on public enlightenment regarding security measures.
A presidential spokesman indicated that police had been “directed to ensure the prompt arrest and prosecution of political thugs” (Next [Abuja], January 4). Jonathan’s government has invited American FBI agents and members of Israel’s MOSSAD intelligence organization to help investigate the Abuja bombing (Vanguard, January 3; Abuja Leadership, January 3).
The Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed responsibility for a pair of car bombings in the capital last October, issued a statement through spokesman Jomo Gbomo denying any involvement in the attack at the Mogadishu Cantonment: "Bombings and attacks carried out by MEND are always preceded by a warning in order to prevent casualties and followed by a statement of claim… [MEND] condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians by any persons or groups for what so ever reasons” (AFP, January 2; Vanguard, January 2).
PDP primaries next week will be followed by what is expected to be hotly contested presidential, gubernatorial and parliamentary elections in April. With the political direction of the country in the balance, few seem able to resist the temptation to link political opponents to the ongoing violence.
The campaign organization of Jonathan’s main challenger for the PDP presidential nomination for upcoming elections in April, former vice-president Atiku Abubakar, denounced what it described as efforts by the president’s paid agents to link Abubakar with the Abuja bombing: “In a moment of national crisis, President Goodluck Jonathan must demonstrate sobriety and cool-headed posture rather than losing his head to impetuous emotions… The President should allow security services to carry out intensive investigations instead of using the incident to frame up political opponents whom he perceives as stumbling blocks to his ambition” (Next, January 4).
Former military ruler of Nigeria General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993) has also complained of government attempts to tie him to the Abuja bombing, describing it as “sheer blackmail”: “It exposes the weakness in the system if private persons and former leaders who are enjoying their retirement are being linked to acts of terrorism or bombings. We all should agree that there is failure in governance rather than passing the buck, or finding very idiotic and flimsy reasons to label some distinguished persons as being responsible for such failures” (Vanguard, January 3; Daily Sun [Lagos], January 3). Various NGOs, as well as religious and labor leaders have alleged that the Abuja bombing is part of an attempt to create a state of emergency leading to the military’s return to power (Nigerian Compass [Lagos], January 4; Daily Trust, January 3).
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Muhammadu Abubakar, made an unfavorable comparison between the current state of security and that which existed under military rule. “We should blame the political class for getting us to this stage because it was not like this before,” Abubakar claimed (Daily Trust, December 30, 2010).
Nigeria’s intelligence services have come under strong public criticism for repeated failures to anticipate eruptions of sectarian violence in northern and central Nigeria. Army Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirike acknowledged the failure, saying there is a need to “enhance intelligence operations” (Daily Trust, December 30, 2010). Meanwhile, Defense Minister Prince Adetokunbo Kayode promised the investigation would continue, saying, “The perpetrators are here, they are not from the moon and we will get them” (Vanguard, January 2).
MYSTERIOUS MURDER OF LEBANESE ISLAMIST MILITANT GHANDI AL-SAHMARANI
The late-December murder of Lebanese Islamist and Jund al-Sham commander Ghandi Sahmarani (a.k.a. Abu Ramiz) was an instructive example of the changing balance of power in Lebanon’s Ayn al-Hilweh refugee camp, which exploded in Islamist-inspired violence in 2007.
While political assassinations are far from unknown in the Palestinian camps, Sahmarani’s death followed a different pattern from the usual shootings and bombings. Though exact details remain unclear, it appears that Sahmarani was brutally tortured for as long as 48 hours before his ultimate death by hanging or a gunshot to the mouth (Now Lebanon, January 3). There was no claim of responsibility for the killing. Sahmarani, a native of Tripoli, was closely tied to the Ayn al-Hilweh camp for over 20 years. Following the discovery of his body the Lebanese Army moved additional forces to the entrance of the camp, but the anticipated unrest never materialized (Naharnet, December 27, 2010; December 28, 2010).
Established in 2004, Jund al-Sham (“The Army of Greater Syria”) is a splinter group of the larger Usbat al-Ansar (“League of Partisans”), an armed Salafist movement formed in the 1980s. Unlike a number of other Salafist groups operating in the Palestinian refugee camps, both Usbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham include native Lebanese members, like Sahmarani, as well as Palestinians in their ranks (Naharnet, May 31, 2008). The small group of roughly 50 Jund al-Sham militants joined the Fatah al-Islam movement in the bitter fighting against the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) that erupted in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in 2007 and later spread to Ayn al-Hilweh.
Sources within the camp say the brutal killing was not politically motivated, but rather came in response to allegations that Sahmarani had raped a number of married and unmarried women within the site (Now Lebanon, January 3). One Islamist leader who declined to be named told a Beirut daily that Sahmarani was killed “for moral reasons” after raping a married woman and videotaping her naked (Daily Star [Beirut], December 29, 2010). Lebanese radio reported that the killers had been identified and were part of Sahmarani’s “inner circle” (Voice of Lebanon Radio, December 27, 2010).
Jund al-Sham has had frequent clashes with the secular Palestinian Fatah movement led by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazin) (al-Hayat, March 24, 2008). Fatah security official Mahmud Abd al-Hamid Isa “al-Lino” in particular has been in the forefront of efforts to rein in Jund al-Sham extremists, who have frequently endangered relations between the Palestinians and Lebanese authorities. Al-Lino is a senior commander in Fatah’s Palestinian Armed Struggle (PAS), which serves as a civil police force in the Palestinian camps. The camps are administered by Palestinian authorities rather than the Lebanese government under the terms of a treaty. Recently the Islamist factions have been cooperating with the PAS to restore order and security to the Palestinian camps, leaving little room for extremists like Sahmarani. Even other armed Islamist groups such as Usbat al-Ansar have participated in campaigns to disarm and dismantle the Jund al-Sham organization. Under pressure from all sides, many Jund al-Sham militants have fled to Europe, joined the jihad in Iraq, or returned to the ranks of Usbat al-Ansar.
Fatah’s al-Lino issued a prompt denial of Fatah involvement in the killing of Sahmarani, describing it as “an incident shrouded in mystery” (Daily Star [Beirut], December 29, 2010). Though an Ayn al-Hilweh shop owned by a PAS major was bombed shortly after the discovery of Sahmarani’s body, authorities were reluctant to make any connection between the two events. Authorities are likely correct in this; considering the circumstances and method of Sahmarani’s murder, his near complete isolation, the general desire, even among Islamists, for security and the unsupportable nature of the allegations against Sahmarani, retaliation for his death would definitely be inadvisable for his few remaining supporters. His followers (if any indeed still exist) might be more likely to seek the services of human smugglers to emigrate to Europe, a path frequently taken by other Ayn al-Hilweh militants who have found themselves under pressure in the close confines of the camp. The new but largely powerless Jund al-Sham leadership will be under close scrutiny from Palestinian security forces, Lebanese intelligence and even their fellow Islamists in Ayn al-Hilweh.