CAPTURED BOKO HARAM SPOKESMAN UNDERGOES “INTENSE INTERROGATION”
After enduring strong criticism over the last two years for repeated intelligence failures in its struggle against Boko Haram militants, Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) appears to have scored a major intelligence coup with its capture of the Boko Haram spokesman, popularly known as “Abu Qaqa,” who is now said to be providing “very useful and verifiable information to his interrogators (Vanguard [Lagos], February 3).
The 42-year-old Boko Haram spokesman was retrieved from under his bed and arrested in an early morning raid in the city of Kaduna on February 1 after security services began tracking his mobile phone. After his arrest, Abu Qaqa was flown to Abuja for questioning at the SSS headquarters (Punch [Lagos], February 2). Abu Qaqa is unlikely to have an easy time in SSS captivity after threatening to kidnap or kill family members of agency personnel shortly before his arrest (Nigerian Tribune, February 12).
Wary of announcing his capture before his identity could be confirmed, the SSS initially denied making the arrest, but announced their man was indeed Abu Qaqa after the detainee “buckled under intense interrogation,” according to a source in the security services (Vanguard [Lagos], February 3).
Some of the confusion appeared to have been caused by the wide number of aliases used by the Boko Haram spokesman, including Muhammad Shauibu, Muhammad Bello, Abu Tiamiya, and Abdulrahman Abdullahi. Reflecting Abu Qaqa’s success at covering his identity, interrogators also discovered that their suspect was actually a member of the Ebira tribe of Kogi State rather than an Igala as they had thought earlier.
A member of Boko Haram claiming to be Abu Qaqa confirmed that a leading member of the movement had been arrested, but insisted it was actually the group’s chief of “public enlightenment” Abu Dardaa. Security services are convinced that “Abu Dardaa” is simply one of Abu Qaqa’s many aliases (AFP, February 3; Nigerian Tribune, February 4).
Following confirmation of the spokesman’s arrest bombings came in Kano and Maiduguri, where units of Nigeria’s elite Joint Task Force (JTF) are engaged in bitter street battles with Boko Haram fighters (al-Jazeera, February 6; This Day [Lagos], February 7; Vanguard [Lagos], February 3).
Sources said to be close to the interrogation claim the Boko Haram spokesman has revealed ethnic divisions within the movement, with the Hausa-Fulani members observing that Kanuri members are rarely arrested in comparison to the large number of arrests of Hausa-Fulani members. Suspicion of betrayal by the Kanuris threatens to split the movement, according to Abu Qaqa: “Some of us, the non-Kanuri… were worried at the trend of arrests of our members. It is either that the security agents were so good at their job or some of our members were moles giving us out. The worrying aspect was that most of our key members arrested were non-Kanuri…” (This Day [Lagos], February 7; The Nation [Lagos], February 6).
Abu Qaqa is also reported to have told interrogators that internal criticism of Boko Haram attacks on civilians was ruthlessly repressed by the movement’s leader: “Before I was arrested, some of us had already shown signs of tiredness. Most of us were tired of fighting but we couldn’t come out to say so because of fear of reprisal from the leader, Imam Shekau, on dissenting members. Several of our members that denounced the violent struggle were slaughtered in front of their wives and children. Seven were killed recently” (Nigerian Tribune, February 7; This Day [Lagos], February 7).
Abu Qaqa is best known for announcing Boko Haram’s responsibility for the brutal Christmas Day, 2011 bombing that killed 37 people and a series of attacks in Kano in January that resulted in the deaths of 186 people (Reuters, February 1). Qaqa recently told the Guardian in an exclusive interview that Boko Haram members were spiritual followers of al-Qaeda and the late Osama bin Laden. The spokesman further said that Boko Haram leader Muhammad Abubakr Shekau had met al-Qaeda leaders in Saudi Arabia in August and was able to obtain from al-Qaeda whatever financial and technical support the movement needed. Recruits from Chad, Cameroon and Niger had joined Boko Haram, according to its spokesman, who also promised that all Nigerians would need to follow the group’s inflexible version of Shari’a should the movement take power: "There are no exceptions. Even if you are a Muslim and you don’t abide by Shari’a, we will kill you. Even if you are my own father, we will kill you." (Guardian, January 27).
Nigerian reports suggest several Western intelligence agencies, including the CIA, are now assisting in the hunt for the fugitive Boko Haram leader, Imam Muhammad Abubakr Shekau, who is believed to be hiding in a village in Cameroon, close to the Nigerian border, after having abandoned an earlier refuge in a village in Niger. After Abu Qaqa’s arrest, Shekau is said to be relying solely on trusted couriers to remain in communication with his movement (Nigerian Tribune, February 6).
SINAI BEDOUIN REJECT EGYPT’S “MILITARY-ISLAMIST ALLIANCE”
The Sinai’s well-armed but marginalized Bedouin community has accused Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of “treason” and has threatened a general insurgency if SCAF continues to ignore their quest for greater political representation, return or compensation of land expropriated for tourist developments and the liberation of hundreds of Bedouin men who were arrested without charge in 2004-2007, Bedouin representatives have suggested that Egypt’s new Islamist-dominated parliament is designed to serve the military that created it. According to Ahmed Hussein, a leader of the Qararsha tribe of South Sinai, the Bedouin will not recognize a parliament without Bedouin representation and will reject the “alliance between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and a certain Islamic party [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood]” (Bikya Masr [Cairo], January 17).
The Sinai’s Bedouin community has been at odds with government security forces following the latter’s heavy-handed response to a series of bombings in Sinai tourist resorts between 2004 and 2006. Thousands of young Bedouin men were arrested and tortured, with many remaining in Egyptian prisons today without trial or even charges having been laid. Though there were expectations this situation would be rectified after the collapse of the Mubarak regime, the military government has done nothing to date.
On February 5, a blast in North Sinai severed the pipeline carrying Egyptian natural gas to Israel and Jordan. The pipeline has come under attack at least 12 times since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February 2011 (Reuters, February 5). The pipeline has become a symbol of the corruption of the Mubarak regime, with many Egyptians believing the unusually low price of the gas provided to Israel in a 20 year deal was the result of behind-the-scenes payoffs to the Mubarak family and their business associates. The Egyptian loss on the deal is estimated at $714 million.
Jordan has been forced to raise electricity prices this month to cover the cost of imported fuel needed to replace the interrupted Egyptian gas supply. Jordan agreed last October to a substantial increase in payments and Israel may soon be asked to do the same (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 5). The pipeline currently provides 40% of Israel’s gas requirements. Most electricity in Israel is now generated by natural gas and the loss of gas supplies means more expensive diesel and fuel oil must be substituted at an additional cost of nearly $3 million per day (Ahram Online, January 24).
Most of the pipeline bombings appear to be the work of Islamist militant groups operating in the northern Sinai. One such group, Ansar al-Jihad, claimed responsibility for the latest attack, describing it as retaliation for the death in prison of their leader, Muhammad Eid Musleh Hamad (a.k.a. Muhammad Tihi). Hamad was arrested on November 13 in connection to previous pipeline bombings (Ma’an News Agency [Bethlehem]/Reuters, February 5).
Ansar al-Jihad announced its formation on December 20, 2011, pledging to carry out the work begun by the late Osama bin Laden (Sinam al-Islam, December 20, 2011). The group further proclaimed its full support in January of current al-Qaeda leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a veteran Egyptian jihadist (Sinam al-Islam, January 24; al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], January 26).
The latest pipeline attack was only one of a series of incidents in the last few weeks that indicate a growing unrest in the Sinai region and a greater willingness on the part of the Bedouin community to resort to arms to achieve their aims:
- On January 24, dozens of Bedouin gunmen seized the Aqua Sun, a Red Sea hotel, as part of an effort to reclaim traditional lands lost in the 1990s when the Egyptian government sold coastal properties to private developers. Well-armed with automatic weapons, the gunmen demanded that the hotel owners either return the land or buy it from the Bedouin. Egyptian military authorities did not respond to the hotel management’s pleas for action to retake the property and release the employees held hostage by the gunmen, saying they could not undertake military operations in the area without Israeli approval (Bikya Masr [Cairo], January 24).
- On January 26 masked gunmen in two 4×4 vehicles tried to plant explosives on a North Sinai natural gas plant. Their arrival appears to have been known beforehand to soldiers and local guards at the site, who engaged the attackers in a gun battle (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], January 26).
- A wave of bank robberies in the Sinai by well-armed Bedouin has shocked many in Egypt, where such crimes have been extremely rare. In one such incident on January 28, two Egyptians and one French tourist were killed in the gunfire that followed a police ambush on a band of armed Bedouin that had just robbed a bank in Sharm al-Sheikh of L.E. 2 million. With a further two tourists injured in the crossfire, the robbery struck a further blow to Egypt’s faltering tourism industry.
- On January 31, a group of armed Bedouin seized 25 Chinese workers from a Sinai cement factory with the intention of holding the group hostage until the Egyptian government released five relatives of the gunmen who were originally detained in 2004 after an attack on the tourist resort of Taba (AFP, February 1). The abducted Chinese workers were released within 15 hours, suggesting concessions were made by the military government, though details of what prompted the release remain scarce (Xinhua, February 1; Bikya Masr [Cairo], February 1). One of the demands made for the release of the 25 Chinese workers called for a halt to gas exports to Israel (al-Ahram Weekly [Cairo], February 2-8).
- On February 3, two American women were abducted by Bedouin gunmen on their way from St. Catherine’s monastery in the south Sinai to the resort of Sharm al-Sheikh. The gunmen, apparently members of the Qararsha tribe of South Sinai, were seeking the release of two detained relatives whom police described as drug dealers apprehended in a violent arrest on January 28 which saw three police officers wounded and one Bedouin killed. The women, who reported they were well treated during a brief captivity, were released after several hours when police promised to review the case of the two Bedouin detainees (Reuters, February 3; AP, February 4).
In light of the growing unrest in the region, Israel is intent on accomplishing three goals along the Sinai border: 1) Seal off the tunnel network used to smuggle goods and arms into Gaza, 2) Prevent further infiltration of the border by African refugees and drug traffickers, and 3) Insulate Israel from the growing insecurity in the Sinai without having to approve the deployment of larger numbers of Egyptian troops in the region, as required by the 1978 Camp David Accords. To accomplish these goals, Israel is constructing a massive border fence and a secondary defense line several kilometers back. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is awaiting financial approval to deploy remote control gun systems in a series of pillboxes along this line. Reservists normally deployed on border security duties have been replace by Israeli regulars (YNet News, February 6).
On the other side of the border, Egyptian police have adopted a hard-line “shoot first” policy to prevent Africans from attempting to cross into Israel. Two Africans killed at the border on January 21 were among dozens killed by Egyptian border guards in the last few years (Bikya Masr [Cairo], January 21).