MILITANTS REVIVE NIGER DELTA INSURGENCY WITH BOMBING “FROM THE PIT OF HELL”
Nigeria’s Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) made clear its complete rejection of the amnesty program and a peaceful approach to solving the problems of the Niger Delta region on March 15 with a deadly attack on a major post-amnesty dialogue in the Delta State city of Warri.
The conference was well attended by government officials (including the governors of four states and a former Chief of Defense Staff) and a number of prominent ex-militants who had taken advantage of the government’s amnesty program. The event, entitled “Restoring Hope in the Niger Delta,” was sponsored and organized by Nigeria’s Vanguard Media Limited.
Two bombs went off at Warri’s Delta State Government House Annex, where the meeting was being held. Though three people were killed and many more injured, MEND insisted that it had called off the detonation of a third bomb that might have caused massive casualties as those attending the event were observed fleeing in its direction. A MEND statement claimed the bombs were set off by remote control by its operatives who later retrieved the unused third bomb and returned safely to base (This Day [Lagos], March 17).
A spokesperson for the Joint Revolutionary Council (JRC), an umbrella group composed of Niger Delta militants, described the bombing as “an act of evil devised from the pit of hell and within the corridors of Lucifer” (This Day, March 17; Niger Delta Standard, March 17). The spokesperson went on to call MEND a “dementia inflicted cabal” which has “cunningly infiltrated the just and noble struggle for the liberation and emancipation of the Ijaw and Niger Delta struggle.” The MEND attack was the first claimed by the movement since MEND announced on January 30 it would no longer observe the ceasefire to which it agreed in October, 2009. A blast occurred on Shell’s Trans-Ramos pipeline only hours after the January 30 statement, but the movement issued a somewhat ambiguous denial of responsibility (Reuters, February 2; Daily Champion [Lagos], February 10).
With MEND intensifying its struggle by directly targeting government leaders rather than oil facilities, Nigeria’s Joint Security Taskforce (JST) has begun security sweeps through the region, including a manhunt for MEND leader Henry Okah, who accepted a government amnesty in July, 2009 (This Day, March 18; Punch [Lagos], March 23). The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) is also seeking the movement’s bomb-maker, a native of Anambra State who is alleged to have been contracted by MEND to supply ten bombs (Vanguard [Lagos], March 20).
A MEND statement indicated that the attack was a response to a statement by Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, who described MEND and its “virtual” spokesman Jomo Gbomo as “paper tigers.” It was also a reminder of how the “lands of the people of the Niger Delta were stolen by the oil companies and Northern Nigeria with a stroke of the pen” (Daily Trust [Lagos], March 17; March 21). The movement promised to strike at “oil companies across the Niger Delta,” including “companies such as Total which have been spared in the past. We hope the actions which will follow will persuade Mr. Uduaghan that we exist outside of cyberspace” (Daily Trust, March 17).
Many ex-militants have complained that the government’s amnesty program has stalled as a consequence of the severe illness of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who was the prime mover behind the program. Temporary President Goodluck Jonathan and other ministers have said the post-amnesty program will continue and assured foreign oil companies that the government was “on top of the situation” in the Niger Delta (Port Harcourt Telegraph, March 17). The continuing violence in the Delta is beginning to have a severe effect on oil production and its revenues, on which the Nigerian state is reliant.
AL-QAEDA AND ALGERIA DEVELOP NEW STRATEGIES IN BATTLE FOR THE SAHEL
During a March 16 meeting in Algiers consisting of Foreign Ministers from Saharan and Sahel nations (including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), Algeria presented a new strategy for dealing with the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The strategy is designed to interfere with the operations of smugglers and terrorists alike by restricting their access to vital supplies of fuel and water (El-Khabar [Algiers], March 17). The plan calls for abandoned wells to be blocked up while access to other wells will be closely restricted by security forces.
Sources involved with the conference told the Algerian press that several Western nations were considering direct air strikes against AQIM targets in the desert. To facilitate these operations, the French Army’s engineering corps is looking at building four runways in north and central Mali (El-Khabar [Algiers], March 17). There appears to have been some consensus at the meeting that earlier plans for the Sahara/Sahel nations to gradually build military capacity had been superseded by AQIM’s growing activity on the ground. Lack of surveillance and attack aircraft as well as an absence of long-range artillery has impaired the ability of these nations to respond to the AQIM threat.
Algeria’s plans to restrict access to water and fuel in the region are actually a regional expansion of a local program that began in 2006 and is credited with reducing militant activity in southern Algeria. Fuel smuggling is rampant in the region and provides the means for criminal and terrorist groups to operate across vast unoccupied tracts of desert. Algeria is also considering restricting the circulation of 4X4 vehicles in the area, particularly Toyota FJ55 Land Cruisers, which are often converted to hold up to 1,000 liters of gasoline or diesel fuel. There are fears, however, that an effective campaign against smuggling will only exacerbate the region’s serious unemployment problem and aid the militants’ recruitment efforts.
An AQIM attack on a military outpost in western Niger on March 12 killed five soldiers, reinforcing the perception that local militaries are incapable of tackling AQIM (AFP, March 12; Ennahar [Algiers], March 13). According to an AQIM statement, the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who drove a truck filled with 600 kilograms of explosives into the barracks at Tilwa. The bombing was followed by a general attack by militants that succeeded in seizing large quantities of vehicles, weapons and ammunition (al-Andalus Establishment for Media Production, March 14). Though al-Qaeda is normally dominated by Arabs, the statement said the attack was carried out by “the descendants of Yusuf Bin Tachfin,” a reference to the famed Berber king of the Almoravid Empire (1061-1106). Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa, though many have adopted the Arab language, religion and culture after the Arab invasions.
A video message from AQIM spokesman Abu Ubaydah Yusuf entitled “A Message Addressed to the Peoples and Rulers of the States of the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa” suggested that AQIM has no desire to fight with the militaries of the Sahel-Saharan nations, but has been compelled to do so in “self-defense” (al-Andalus Establishment for Media Production, March 9). Abu Ubaydah warns the rulers of these states that ongoing French “military interference” and the American “colonial project” AFRICOM are part of an effort to convince Sahara-Sahel militaries to act as “Crusader proxies” and will lead to new strikes by AQIM as well as other consequences, such as tribal conflict and the revival of dormant animosities:
If these criminals [i.e. Western nations] were honest about what they are saying, they would have ceased to plunder your goods, steal your wealth, control the decisions of your governments and direct their policies to what serves their interests and goals. They would have aided you to lift your economies. However, as you see, they only seek to build military bases on your lands and then lure your governments into side wars that will increase your suffering and misery.
Though AQIM appears to be taking a simultaneous aggressive and conciliatory approach to most of the Sahara-Sahel nations, it still did not hesitate to label the Algerian regime “apostate.” Over the period 2005-2009, Algeria was the world’s ninth largest purchaser of weapons, though many of these, such as submarines and anti-aircraft guns, have no practical anti-terrorist applications (Tout sur l’Algerie, March 22, based on figures from SIPRI). <iframe src=’http://www.jamestown.org/jamestown.org/inner_menu.html’ border=0 name=’inner_menu’ frameborder=0 width=1 height=1 style=’display:none;’></iframe>