[Dehai-WN] Time.com: Threat Level Rising: How African Terrorist Groups Inspired by al-Qaeda Are Gaining Strength

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2011 23:38:17 +0100

Threat Level Rising: How African Terrorist Groups Inspired by al-Qaeda Are
Gaining Strength

By <http://www.time.com/time/letters/email_letter.html> Alex Perry /
Maiduguri Monday, Dec. 19, 2011


Samuel James / The New York Times / Redux

The moment Nigeria's Islamists graduated from local to international threat
can be dated almost precisely, to just before 11 a.m. on Aug. 26. Mohammed
Abul Barra, 27, a car mechanic and father of one from Maiduguri in Nigeria's
northeast, had just turned into the diplomatic enclave in Nigeria's hot,
dusty capital, Abuja. As he passed by embassies and empty lots, Barra
presented an unremarkable sight: his car was a Honda Accord sedan, and Barra
dressed and drove conventionally. The first indication of anything unusual
was when he swerved into the exit lane of a 100-m driveway leading to U.N.
House, the international organization's four-story headquarters. He bounced
over one speed bump, then another. Then he drove straight at a 3-m sliding
steel security gate, hitting its right edge so that it popped off its rail
and fell harmlessly to one side. Barra repeated the maneuver with a second
gate a few meters on and, the way now clear, drove on at U.N. House with the
same deliberate, unhurried speed. He crashed into the lobby. The car,
finally halted by a wall, bounced back. Barra did not try to get out. To one
side, a security guard stood frozen. Others - U.N. staff, security personnel
- ran away, then turned back. Barra stayed at the wheel. "Was he having
second thoughts? Was he praying?" asks U.S. Ambassador Terence McCulley in
Abuja, reconstructing the scene based on surveillance-camera footage he has
viewed. "Was he searching for the detonator?" After a full 16 seconds, the
car exploded.

Debris killed perhaps a dozen people. Most of the other 24 dead and 115
wounded, nearly all Nigerian, suffered massive internal injuries as a blast
wave big enough to flatten a water tower 100 m away crushed their insides.
An FBI forensic team later determined the bomb was colossal, and clever.
Around 150 kg of plastic explosives had been placed inside a metal cone - a
shaped charge - to focus its force. "This was very, very carefully planned,"
says Nigeria's national-security adviser, General Andrew Owoeye Azazi. "This
was not just a local guy from Maiduguri."
<http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2090566,00.html> (See
pictures of a bombing in Nigeria.)

The attack's ingenuity led many to conclude that Africa's nascent Islamic
terrorism threat is metastasizing. The continent is home to three main
Muslim militant movements. All are al-Qaeda "franchises," groups inspired by
Osama bin Laden, even after his death, and his organization, even if they
have no direct contact with it. All are also based in the Sahara or the
Sahel, the semidesert that runs beneath it. In the scrub of northern
Nigeria, a series of groups known collectively as Boko Haram have killed
thousands - soldiers, police, civilians - in the past half-decade, and up to
600 this year. To their north, deep in the Sahara, al-Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb (AQIM) is led by Algerian Islamists who kidnap and sometimes kill
Westerners in Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania. In the latest such
attack, on Nov. 25, suspected AQIM militants kidnapped a Swede, a Dutchman
and a South African from a restaurant in Timbuktu, Mali - and killed a
German who refused to go along - a day after another group abducted two
French geologists in the east of the country. In Africa's eastern deserts in
Somalia, al-Shabab fights the official government and its protectors:
African Union soldiers from Uganda and Burundi and, since October, an
invading Kenyan force, plus, since November, an invading Ethiopian one. Like
AQIM, al-Shabab has an international reach. Kenya blames it for several
grenade attacks inside its borders. In July 2010, al-Shabab suicide bombers
killed 76 people in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Terror on the Go

The Abuja attack suggests Boko Haram is linking to, and learning from, the
two other groups. Nigeria's Azazi says before the attack he had intelligence
of Boko Haram fighters traveling to al-Shabab strongholds in Somalia. A man
who identifies himself as Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa has also boasted to
journalists of sending hundreds of fighters to train there. Boko Haram's
links to AQIM are already well established. McCulley says the U.S. has seen
reports of Nigerian militants traveling to northern Mali for training with
AQIM since 2005. Certainly, the May kidnapping of a Briton and an Italian
working for a construction company in northwestern Nigeria suggests AQIM's
methods are spreading. In August, the pair appeared in a videotape sent to a
news agency in which they identified their abductors as al-Qaeda.
<http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2090602,00.html> (See if the
Boko Haram was behind the U.N. bombing in Nigeria.)

Will Islamist insurgencies in Nigeria and Kenya - the economic powerhouses
of West and East Africa - wreck Africa's nascent economic growth, just as
the continent struggles to emerge from poverty and conflict? The Arab Spring
seems to make al-Qaeda far less relevant, but does this coalescing threat
make Africa a new battlefield in the fight against terrorism? The officer
who heads Washington's Africa Command (Africom) thinks so. On Sept. 14,
General Carter Ham told reporters in Washington: "If left unaddressed, you
could have a network that ranges from East Africa through the center. Those
three organizations have very explicitly and publicly voiced intent to
target Westerners and the U.S. specifically. To me, that is very, very

Maiduguri, Barra's hometown, is on the southern edge of the Sahara in
Nigeria's northeast. Hot, poor, and with some of the world's worst levels of
education and health, Maiduguri has been a fount of Islamic revolution since
the early 19th century, when Muslim rebels overthrew the ruling Hausa
dynasties, accusing them of un-Islamic corruption. That dynamic -
antiauthoritarian, revivalist Islamic movements challenging an avaricious,
secular elite - endures. Its latest manifestation is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna
Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, Arabic for People Committed to the Propagation of the
Prophet's Teachings and Jihad, better known as Boko Haram, meaning Western
Education Is Sacrilege.

The movement has its religious foundation in the Izala sect, a group of
Islamic preachers founded in the 1970s and led, by 2005, by a man called
Mohammed Yusuf, who had studied in Saudi Arabia. Why bother with Western
education, Yusuf would ask in sermons, when there were no jobs even for
graduates? Hadn't Western influence given them Ali Modu Sheriff, a state
governor who spent little on his people but built himself a palace of marble
pillars and golden gates in Maiduguri? Yusuf set up a camp called
Afghanistan to train volunteers for his revolution.

The spark for a full-fledged insurgency came in late July 2009. After a
clash between police and Boko Haram members resulted in three deaths, riots
erupted across northeast Nigeria. On July 28, the army surrounded Yusuf's
compound in Maiduguri, arrested him, then executed him. By July 29, 700
people were dead, including enough militants to stall Boko Haram's
insurgency. But by 2010, Boko Haram was back. This Nov. 5, at least 67
people died in a Boko Haram attack on the city of Damaturu.

One mistake made by both sides in the wars that followed 9/11 was how they
often overlooked the detail and peculiar dynamics of the places in which
they fought. In Afghanistan, the U.S. initially all but equated al-Qaeda and
the Taliban, and in Iraq many Americans saw little difference between Osama
bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. For their part, many Muslims still regard 9/11
and the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, as evidence of a global
anti-Islamic conspiracy.
<http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/0,28757,1650830,00.html> (See a TIME
special on Princess Diana.)

Will Africa make the same mistakes? Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan
certainly seems susceptible. Rather than focusing on addressing Boko Haram's
grievances regarding underdevelopment and corruption, Jonathan - a Christian
from southern Nigeria - describes his country as an unfortunate bystander
caught in the cross fire of an international war. Boko Haram are "just like
other terrorist attacks in the world," he said on Nov. 10.

If you misread a problem, you can't fix it. If you mischaracterize a local
Islamist rebellion as global terrorism, that's eventually what you'll face.
"Left to stew, this trend of internationalization is inevitable," says a
Western diplomat in Abuja. The Abuja bomb is proof that the causes of
Nigeria's militancy have been left unaddressed for long enough that some
fighters are now thinking bigger, and Jonathan's misperception is becoming a
self-fulfilling prophecy. National-security adviser Azazi says the attack
was most likely carried out by a Boko Haram faction led by a man called
Mamman Nur, whom he describes as having sophisticated bombmaking skills and
links to Islamists in Mali, Algeria, Somalia and Yemen. "Look at what
happened between the crackdown in 2009 and their return in 2010," says
Azazi. "Suddenly they can do IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and wire
cars. This is something that's been festering - and is suddenly exploding."

The Somalian Connection

If Nigeria's Islamist militants are in transition to becoming an
international threat, Somalia's made the leap long ago. The 1998 bombings of
U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 230
people, were carried out by an al-Qaeda franchise based in Somalia. In
2006-08, the U.S. says, dozens of American, British, Scandinavian and
Australian ethnic Somalis arrived in Somalia and joined the country's latest
iteration of Islamist militancy, al-Shabab. That group, and a network of
Ugandan and Kenyan jihadists they built, according to both the U.S. and a
report by a panel of U.N. Somalia experts, was behind the 2010 Kampala

All that experience of extremism hasn't always made those fighting it any
wiser. Proof of that lies behind a cage door at the back of the pink offices
of the National Somali Security Intelligence, next to the presidential
palace in Mogadishu. The door opens into a staircase leading down to a
basement. At the bottom, according to one source, is another metal door that
opens into a central corridor, flanked by 14 jail cells. There is no light,
no windows, and the floors and walls are filthy. The place stinks.
<http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2087318,00.html> (See
pictures of government forces laying claim to Mogadishu.)

The 50 men held there are all terrorism suspects abducted from across East
Africa by security services working with the U.S. Ahmed Abdullahi is an
ethnic Somali with one leg who was snatched from Nairobi by Kenya's security
services in September 2009. "They came to my place in Nairobi, kicked my
door down, blindfolded me and took me to the airport and on to Mogadishu,"
he says. On arrival, he says, he was interrogated by Somalis and
unidentified Western personnel for a few weeks. They then lost interest.
Abdullahi's been held ever since. "No one gets out of here," says the
26-year-old. "They don't know what to do with me. They can't let me out and
risk me talking about this place."

TIME learned of this secret underground prison in Mogadishu, and Abdullahi's
account of East African rendition, through a freelance photographer from
Mogadishu, Mohamed Dahir, who has been briefly jailed there, twice. The
second time, this March, Dahir was accused of belonging to al-Shabab. In the
underground jail, he met Abdullahi, whom he recognized from Nairobi. Dahir
also saw five white men - dressed in combat gear and carrying weapons - at
the compound. That night, Dahir persuaded a guard to call his clan elders.
They vouched for him, and he was released the next day. His captors
apologized but warned: "Don't tell anyone what you saw here. We can get to
you wherever you are." Dahir's account conforms to a pattern, documented in
previous TIME reports and by human-rights groups, of forced rendition of
hundreds of terrorism suspects from Kenya and Somalia to jails in Kampala
and Addis Ababa.

Kenya is making other mistakes too in its own war on terrorism. On Oct. 16
it sent around 2,000 soldiers into Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabab. Kenya's
attack was ostensibly in retaliation for the killing of a British tourist,
the kidnapping of two more - a Briton and a French woman, who later died -
and the abduction of two Spanish aid workers, all of which Kenya blamed on
al-Shabab. U.S. diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks show that Kenya has,
in fact, been planning such an incursion for years. Its long-term Somali
strategy - using southern Somalia's clans, the country's last real authority
- to create an autonomous buffer state in the south has some merit, but
al-Shabab has melted away and the advance has been slow. Kenya is also
ignoring well-founded suspicions that the foreigners were snatched by
professional kidnappers, and dismisses doubts over its military strategy,
such as the wisdom of attacking al-Shabab's 2,500 fighters - fighters who
saw off a much larger Ethiopian force in 2009 - with fewer than 2,000 men,
or doing so in the rainy season, or during a famine, which war can only
exacerbate. E.J. Hogendoorn, Horn of Africa specialist for the International
Crisis Group, says: "A lot of analysts, myself included, fear Kenya is going
to get bogged down in a much more prolonged occupation - and that's going to
cost them a lot in blood and treasure, and, of course, has the potential to
create a backlash from Somalis."

An Elusive Target

There remains hope that Africa can fare better in its fight against
terrorism. By joining the dots across Africa, U.S. General Ham may be
speculating about the future, rather than describing present reality. "Ham
overstated," says a Western diplomat in Abuja. "He's extrapolating. We see
training. We do not see operational links."

The threat from AQIM is also not straight terrorism. The group has, it is
true, been bolstered by an influx of hundreds of pro-Gaddafi Nigerian and
Chadian fighters from Libya, carrying weapons and cash. But Gaddafi opposed
Islamic fundamentalism. AQIM's declared focus on religion may be a veneer
for its real mission: crime. Since it was founded in 2003, the group has
earned tens of millions of dollars in ransom, but politically it remains
focused on Algeria rather than the global jihad. Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French
al-Qaeda scholar, asks: "How much you do business to finance jihad, and how
much you do jihad to justify your business?" For policemen, crime is a
problem. For terrorist hunters, it's reassuring. It's hard to talk down a
suicidal jihadist, but a businessman, of any sort, lives by his deals - of
the kind, for instance, that persuaded southern Somali warlord Sheik Ahmed
Mohammed Islam ("Madobe") to defect from al-Shabab earlier this year. (See
pictures of Russia celebrating Victory Day.)

Crucially, some terrorist hunters have learned lessons from the decade that
followed 9/11. The structure of Ham's command, Africom, shows insight.
Africom employs aid specialists alongside soldiers, and stresses
intelligence sharing, advisers and training over armed confrontation. Those
are so far limited to one theatre - Somalia - and one type of strike:
assassination, by drones, missiles or attack helicopters. Kenya's military
spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir agrees with the need to "think bigger" in
the fight against al-Shabab. Nigeria's Azazi even accords the enemy some
respect. "I have had communication with a few of them," he says. "If we
can't offer them jobs and good leadership, we cannot solve this problem."
- with reporting by Alan Boswell / Nairobi and Miamey, Mohamed Dahir /
Mogadishu and Karen Leigh / Ouagadougou

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