May 2012 Briefs

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 5


Caesar Acellam was captured with his wife, daughter and a helper by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) on May 13 while crossing the Mbomou River, which forms the border between the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (Acholi Times, May 21). Acellam is the most senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander to be captured or killed since a Ugandan army offensive targeting the LRA started in December 2008. Another LRA commander, Brigadier Bok Abudema, was killed by Ugandan troops on December 31, 2009, in Djemah, CAR.

Acellam’s rise in the LRA began when he replaced Odong Latek as the chief LRA trainer in 1989. Nearly twenty years later, in 2007, Acellam became deputy to LRA leader Joseph Kony after Vincent Otti was executed by Kony’s security guards for allegedly plotting with foreign governments to assassinate Kony. Acellam, a speaker of Arabic, is believed to have attained the third highest rank in the LRA after Kony and Okot Odhiambo and served as the link between the LRA and the Sudanese government, which has supported the LRA against Khartoum’s rivals in Uganda and South Sudan (Reliefweb, May 24). Acellam may therefore be able to shed light on the history of the Sudanese government’s support to the LRA.

Acellam’s capture has been described by Ugandan analysts as an “intelligence coup” that would help track down Kony (Liberty Newspost [Kampala], May 13). However, it is unlikely that Acellam has knowledge of Kony’s location. Kony, who is believed to be hiding with approximately 200 fighters in South Sudan or CAR, has traditionally lived in bush camps far from other LRA commanders like Acellam (Sudan Tribune [London], May 1). This is a security precaution that Kony takes in case one of his commanders either is captured or defects. Since the beginning of the Ugandan offensive, the LRA has had a dispersed, non-hierarchical structure with scattered groups throughout Central Africa. Senior commanders such as Acellam, who is in his 60s, have acted as advisers to younger commanders who, with Kony’s approval, now lead most LRA groups (Reliefweb, May 24).

Despite Acellam’s seniority in the LRA, there is no warrant for his arrest from the International Criminal Court. In addition, under the Ugandan Amnesty law that was enacted in January 2000 to encourage LRA fighters to surrender and denounce rebellion, Acellam is entitled to apply for amnesty (The Observer [Kampala], May 20). Whether Uganda will allow him to go free or try him for his crimes is still under debate in the Ugandan government and military circles. However, some analysts believe that Acellam’s capture was really a pre-planned surrender to the Ugandan army in return for a guarantee of amnesty.




Nigeria’s Joint Task Force (JTF) captured Boko Haram commander and Oyo State native Suleiman Mohammed on May 11 in Kano, Northern Nigeria, with his wife and five children, allegedly while he was manufacturing explosives and in the possession of an AK-47 rifle, 10 improvised explosive devices and 1,000 pieces of live ammunition (Punchng, [Kano], May 12). While being interrogated at the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS) in Abuja, he revealed that he was planning attacks on strategic targets in Lagos, including Tafawa Balewa Square, a market, popular churches, a hotel and a bank, and in other parts of Southwest Nigeria (National Daily, May 13). Until now, Boko Haram’s attacks have been limited to Northern Nigeria and Middle Belt states, so these revelations show that Boko Haram is shifting its geographic focus.


Nigeria’s Yoruba community has denounced Suleiman Mohammed and even questioned whether he is really a Yoruba and not another ethnicity (Vanguard, May 17). However, there is reason to take his statements seriously as this is not the first time a key Boko Haram leader has been detected researching targets in Lagos. Kabiru Sokoto, believed to be the mastermind behind the August 26, 2011 UN headquarters suicide-car bombing in Abuja and the Christmas Day 2011 bomb attack on St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, was reported to have been seen on Snake Island, Lagos, only weeks before orchestrating the church bombing in Madalla (The Nation, February 22).

One reason for Boko Haram’s move southward, according to Suleiman Mohammed, is that some of Boko Haram’s sponsors are southerners and Boko Haram does not want to limit its campaign to an “ethnic agenda” (National Daily, May 13). Boko Haram wants to show that it is not strictly a Hausa and Kanuri group, which are the two dominant ethnicities of Northern Nigeria, but rather that Boko Haram is a “national movement” with an “Islamic consciousness” and that it is made up of Muslims from across Nigeria, including members who are Yoruba, Ibo, Ijaw and Efik. Suleiman Mohammed’s revelations about the need for inter-ethnic unity within Boko Haram’s ranks could be a sign of Boko Haram’s efforts to respond to the claims of former Boko Haram spokesman and Shura Council member, Abu Qaqa. After his capture on February 2, Qaqa told his interrogators that Kanuri members had been selling out members of other ethnic groups, including Hausas and non-Nigerian Chadians, Cameroonians and Nigeriens (The Nation [Abuja], February 7).