That amity first emerged in 2009 when AQIM issued a communiqué eulogizing Boko Haram’s leader Muhammad Yusuf, who had been killed by Nigerian security forces. In that statement, AQIM urged Nigerian Muslims to wage war against Nigerian Christians: “We are prepared to provide weapons training to your sons and to provide them with whatever support we can – men, arms, ammunition, and supplies.”
Of course, even with a newly inked al Qaeda pact in hand, it can be argued that Boko Haram was already doing fine working solo. Their rise to terrorist success story began in earnest in July 2009 when violent clashes between the Boko Haram and Nigerian police took place in Maiduguri, the capital of the northern Nigerian state of Borno. Those clashes, which left hundreds dead, led to the killing of Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf one month later.
The death of Yusuf led the Nigerian government to declare Boko Haram finished. However, its fighters regrouped and launched a deadly guerilla war in Borno. Since that time, Boko Haram has set off bombs; attacked Nigerian troops; assassinated a number of policemen and politicians; and killed imams who disagree with their doctrine of rejecting the secular state.
The fight has been intensifying since the January 2011 re-election of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, who defeated his closest rival, Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north. Jonathan’s presidential victory sparked a spree of rioting that killed over 800 people.
For its part, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly bombings since Jonathan’s inauguration. These bombings included one at an army barracks in the northern city of Bauchi that killed 14 people and one bomb blast that killed four children and injured two others near Maiduguri.
It should be noted, however, that Boko Haram has its Muslim detractors. Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s 70 million Muslims, says Boko Haram represents a small minority of extremists but doesn’t represent the majority of peaceful Muslims: “We’re in the majority but the very few people who don’t believe in this maybe are into taking up arms against innocent lives.”
That topic was one that dominated the recent meeting of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, a conference that included discussions on Nigeria’s post-election violence. It was at the opening of the conference that Nigeria’s Vice President Namadi Sambo urged the religious leaders in attendance to teach Muslims the positive virtues of tolerance and coexistence. As Sambo said, “Islam is a religion of peace and abhors violence.”
Perhaps in a bit of poetic irony, shortly after Sambo had concluded his remarks, the meeting hall was rocked by the nearby suicide bombing of the Nigerian police headquarters.
While the suicide bombing may signal a new and troubling phase in Nigeria’s sectarian strife, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan downplayed its impact, saying, “The security agencies are on top of it. Surely, we will get over it. People should not be panicky at all. Soon, most of these things will be a thing of the past.”
However, the unfortunate reality is that suicide bombings aren’t relegated to the past but rather firmly rooted in the here and now. That is a sad fact evidenced by their continued deadly use in such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. Now, one can add Nigeria to that gruesome list.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.
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