NIGERIAN SECURITY COMMANDERS DISMISSED AFTER BOKO HARAM MILITANTS BLAST THEIR WAY OUT OF PRISON
Threats made in July by the new chief of northern Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect were fulfilled in recent days with a mass prison breakout of incarcerated sect members and what appears to be a series of killings of security personnel by motorcycle-riding gunmen. Imam Abubakr Shekau warned of a new jihad by Boko Haram members seeking revenge for the ruthless repression of their movement in July 2009 by security services angered by Boko Haram attacks on their posts and personnel (Ansar al-Mujahideen, July 11; see also Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 22).
The September 7 escape of over 700 prisoners in Bauchi Prison was apparently inspired by a Boko Haram pledge that their members would not spend the Eid al-Fitr holiday in prison. Eyewitness accounts told of a daring assault by a handful of militants that went on for two hours without relief from security forces. According to these accounts, the militants had cut or shaved their habitual long beards to better infiltrate prayer gatherings close to the prison. AK-47 assault rifles were concealed under their babanrigas, a loose flowing top worn over trousers. On a signal the militants began their attack on the prison gates while trying to assure terrified residents they were on “a mission” and were not there to attack civilians. Some who were not close to the prison initially thought the gunfire was firecrackers set off to celebrate the Eid. One witness said, “There was nothing to make anyone suspicious of them. They wore normal dress and did not sport their trademark long beards. But by the time they sprang into action, it was clear that they were well trained. The guns looked very sophisticated and they handled them with expertise like combatants” (Vanguard [Lagos], September 11). Four individuals, including a policeman, a soldier and two civilians, were killed in the attack (Nigerian Tribune, September 12). As many as 759 prisoners escaped during the assault, of whom 123 were Boko Haram members awaiting trial on charges stemming from the July 2009 violence.
The Boko Haram unit that carried out the assault had clearly planned to take advantage of the relaxed atmosphere during the Eid festivities, striking just as the guards were preparing to break their fast. According to Bauchi Governor Isa Yuguda, “All of us were caught unaware by the attackers because they came at the time nobody was expecting, considering that we are in the holy month of Ramadan, when all true Muslims are expected to be fasting and not engage in anything that could lead to the shedding of blood.”
Following the prison break, alarm spread throughout the northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe and Kano, where 25 Boko Haram suspects are being held at the Kano Central Prison. The Kano Sallah (Eid al-Fitr) celebrations were marked by a show of force by security personnel and a military convoy including a tank accompanying Kano Governor Ibrahim Shekarau to the Kano Central Mosque (Next, September 12). The governor of Bauchi State pledged a door to door search would be conducted to find all Boko Haram suspects (Next [Lagos], September 13). Security at the Gombe State Prison was also intensified in expectation of further attacks (Vanguard, September 10).
President Goodluck Jonathan used the mass escape as an opportunity to make sweeping changes in Nigeria’s military and police leadership, sacking Chief of Army Staff Major General Abdulrahman Dambazzau (who was in New York on official duties at the time), Inspector General of Police Ogbonna Onovo, Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Paul Dike, Naval Chief Vice Admiral Ishaya Ibrahim and the Director General of the State Security Service Afakriya Gadzama.
Minister of Defense Prince Adetokunbo Kayode insisted the changes were not dismissals, pointing out the two year terms of the security commanders had expired in August and the president was merely exercising his prerogative to appoint new leaders (Vanguard, September 10; Nigerian Compass, September 10). The president made clear what he wanted from the security services, saying, “My expectations are that our armed forces and security agencies should be proactive. We must employ intelligence to nip crises in the bud even before it can occur” (Vanguard, September 12).
Jonathan broke the traditional stranglehold of northern Muslim tribes on the military command by appointing Major General Onyeabo Azubike Ihejirika of the Eastern Ibo tribe as the new Chief of Army Staff. Ihejirika is the first Ibo to lead the military since the Ibo-supported Biafran secession war of the 1960s. The appointment was made with wide commendation from southern Nigerian governors and politicians (Vanguard, September 10).
The prison breakout was preceded by a series of killings of policemen in northern Nigeria by motorcycle-riding gunmen. The attacks that killed six policemen in two months were initially blamed on armed robbers (Next, August 26; Nigerian Tribune, August 27; AFP, August 27; Reuters, August 30).
The use of AK-47 assault rifles by the militants raised concerns over the flow of arms into the northern region. The President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria accused security services of overseeing illegal arms imports through the ports. He stated, “Last week, members of Boko Haram, armed with AK47 rifles, attacked the Bauchi prison and its environs. How did they get the arms? You go to Niger Delta, come to Lagos and other parts of the country, illegal arms are everywhere and in the wrong hands” (Vanguard, September 12). Meanwhile in the north, security officials recently seized 52 AK-47 rifles, 1,700 rounds of ammunition and $32,000 in cash being smuggled from Chad to the flashpoint city of Jos, where thousands of people have been killed in sectarian violence in recent years (AfrikNews, August 18).
AL-QAEDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA CLASHES WITH YEMENI MILITARY AT LAWDAR
Heavy fighting between alleged al-Qaeda forces and government troops near the town of Lawdar in Yemen’s Abyan governorate broke out on the weekend of August 21-22 following a deadly ambush by AQAP fighters, claiming a reported eight to 11 soldiers and at least 14 militants (Reuters, August 22; Sep26.net, August 21; AFP August 22). Yemeni military forces were dispatched to the district to reestablish the government’s writ. Al-Qaeda militants and members of the secessionist Southern Mobility movement were given 24 hours to leave Lawdar or the houses they were staying in would be bombarded. Following a mass flight of civilians and the expiration of the ultimatum, more fighting broke out on August 22, as militants resisted their expulsion. Defense Minister General Muhammad Nasir Ahmad Ali was reported to be leading the security operations in Lawdar District personally (AFP, August 22).
Tribal mediation apparently failed in the conflict around Lawdar, with fatal consequences for one of those involved. A leader of the al-Fadl tribe, Shaykh Hussein Saleh Majdal, was assassinated along with his two bodyguards in an attack on the evening of September 4. The shaykh was described as leading the mediation between security forces and al-Qaeda militants (ArabNews.com, September 5; Yemen Observer, September 7).
Government sources have repeatedly referred to armed elements of the secessionist Southern Mobility movement as fighting alongside al-Qaeda in the struggle for Lawdar District. They described a plan by Southern Mobility leaders to assemble their followers in a march intended to break the security cordon around Lawdar (al-Watan, September 11). Security authorities also announced the detention of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mansub, an alleged “terrorist subversive element” who was arrested at a roadblock while in possession of documents alleged to detail the cooperation between AQAP and Southern Mobility (al-Siyasah [Kuwait], September 7). Southern Mobility, however, acknowledges it has activists in the region but says they are involved in “peaceful struggle” (Aden Press Online, September 12).
Although Deputy Interior Minister Saleh al-Zuari declared Lawdar District fully purged of “terrorist elements” on August 24, continuing operations revealed that the militant presence was far from vanquished. A day after al-Zuari’s statement, gunmen riding motorcycles targeted a military patrol in a public marketplace in the Zinjibar District of Abyan, killing four soldiers (Yemen Observer, August 28). On August 27, Yemeni troops took the worst of it in a clash with the militants near Lawdar, leaving 11 dead. Two militants were killed, including (according to security officials) the al-Qaeda second-in-command in Lawdar, Adel Saleh Hardaba (Yemen Observer, August 28).On the same day a 25 year-old al-Qaeda suspect was arrested in northern Abyan while on his way to Lawdar. He was found in possession of an explosives belt and told investigators he had been assigned by al-Qaeda commander Ali Alwi al-Saqqaf to carry out a suicide bombing in Lawdar (Yemen Observer, September 1).
Fighting erupted again on August 31 in which another 12 militants were reported killed. The alleged leader of al-Qaeda forces in the district, Salah Ali Abdullah Al-Damani, was arrested on September 5, though sources vary as to whether he was captured in a night-time raid or seized at a checkpoint (26Sep.net, September 5).
By September 7, AQAP fighters were reported to have largely, but not entirely, pulled out of Lawdar and were heading to nearby Ma’rib and Shabwah governorates, both current hotbeds of anti-government militancy. The director-general of Lawdar District, Ahmad Ahmad Ali al-Qafish, told journalists that the fighters included Saudi, Pakistani, Egyptian, Syrian and Somali elements, though this could not be confirmed (al-Siyasah [Kuwait], September 7). Defense Ministry sources reported three foreigners were discovered amongst the militants slain in the fighting of August 20-21 (Sep26.net, August 21).