ATTACKS ON OIL INTERESTS IN NIGERIA ESCALATE DRAMATICALLY
During the year of 2006, approximately 70 foreigners involved in Nigeria’s energy industry were taken hostage by militants. Just in January of this year, more than 50 foreigners were taken hostage, an alarming increase from the previous year (IRIN, February 6). The militants primarily consist of fighters from the Ijaw ethnic group, whose motivations were explained in the August 10, 2006 issue of Terrorism Monitor. By the end of 2006, their attacks had grown more sophisticated and fighters were attacking government troops and oil interests in large formations consisting of 70 fighters in some instances (Terrorism Focus, October 17, 2006). In 2007, similar brazen attacks have continued. On January 28, approximately 50 fighters from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) stormed a police station in Port Harcourt and set free 125 inmates in an operation that resulted in the “successful rescue” of one of their top military leaders, George Sobomabo, who had been arrested earlier in the day (AFP, January 30). Furthermore, in late January a Reuters journalist, George Esiri, interviewed Tamuno Goodwill, who claims to be a MEND commander (although MEND spokesman “Jomo Gbomo” refutes Goodwill’s claim of authority and has labeled Goodwill as a common criminal), in the western delta who warned that unless MEND’s demands were met, they would “drag the president into a civil war” (Reuters, February 1). The supposed commander also threatened to launch “Operation Black Locust,” which would aim to disrupt key foreign interests in the country. Although Royal Dutch Shell is the largest oil producer in the region, China’s state-owned oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation, has now invested more than $2 billion in Nigeria’s oil industry.
GERMANY CONCERNED BY INCREASE IN CONVERTS TO ISLAM
In recent days, German officials have expressed concern about the rising number of converts to Islam in Germany. The chairman of the German Police Officers Union recently told the DDP news agency that many youth from migrant families have “idealized” the al-Qaeda network (DDP News Agency, February 6). The chairman, Konrad Freiberg, explained that the internet was largely behind this growth in radicalization. According to Freiberg, many al-Qaeda sympathizers make regular postings on online message boards, and that “al-Qaeda hardliners take a closer look at [these forums], singling out young people to contact them and get them interested in assassinations” (DDP News Agency, February 6). He also spoke of the increase in converts to Islam, warning that “those converting to another faith want to present themselves as particularly loyal, which could also mean to be somewhat more extreme than those who grew up with this faith” (DDP News Agency, February 6). A new study on converts to Islam in Germany has found that approximately 4,000 people converted to Islam between July 2004 and June 2005, which amounts to a four-fold increase from the previous year (Der Spiegel Online, January 18). The study was financed by the German Interior Ministry and was performed by Islam Archiv Deutschland. According to Muhammad Salim Abdullah from the Islam Archiv, who was interviewed by Der Spiegel, the converts now include many university graduates and middle-class citizens, where as before converts were primarily women “who married a Muslim partner.” Wolfgang Schäuble, the minister of the interior, recently argued that Turkish migrants are especially prone to radicalization and warned of “home-grown terrorism” in Germany (Der Spiegel Online, February 5).
PAKISTANI INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL ASSASSINATED IN ORAKZAI AGENCY
Highlighting the danger that the tribal areas pose to the Pakistani authorities, gunmen assassinated an Intelligence Bureau official on February 8. The official, Nazar Muhammad, was en route to Peshawar after attending a jirga in the tribal areas. When his car was near Zarghun Khel post in Orakzai Agency, two motorcyclists ambushed the vehicle and fired two fatal rounds into the official (Daily Times, February 8). The killing, which is believed to have been conducted by Taliban militants, is another example of the government’s lack of control of the tribal areas. In recent weeks, the tribal areas have seen a number of similar incidents. On February 5, for example, a pro-government tribal elder was killed in a remote-controlled explosion in Bajaur Agency (Daily Times, February 6). The elder, Malik Kameen, had received threatening letters from an al-Qaeda cell in Bajaur, and he had survived a previous assassination attempt on January 10 (Daily Times, February 6). The assassination of pro-government tribal elders has been a key strategy of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in the tribal regions as they continue their efforts to consolidate control and create maneuvering room for their operations. Pakistan has experienced a wave of suicide bombings recently, some of which have hit the capital; on January 26, attackers struck the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, and on February 6 a suicide bomber attacked the capital’s airport. Many analysts attribute the rise in suicide bombs in the capital to revenge attacks launched in response to a government air strike on an Islamist militant camp in South Waziristan agency on January 16.