Tightening the Noose Against Boko Haram

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ECOWAS Troops
ECOWAS Troops

Intensified military operations against Boko Haram in Nigeria and Mali may signal the beginning of the end of the dreaded islamist sect in the two countries

|  By Ishaya Ibrahim  |  Jan. 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

BOKO HARAM, Nigeria’s violent Islamic sect, is now at the receiving end. The terror group, which has devastated many parts of northern Nigeria, may soon be seriously incapacitated as the Joint Task Force intensifies its crackdown on the sect in the northern cities of Nigeria while its operational base in Mali, is being routed by French and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, forces.

Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo
Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo

At the home front, the N25 million prize that was put on the head of Mohammed Zangina, a member of the Boko Haram Shura Committee and one of the four commanders that are deputy to Shekau, in November last year, seems to have paid off. On Sunday, January 13, the JTF in Maiduguri, under “Operation Restore Order,’’ announced the arrest of Zangina. Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, the JTF spokesperson, said Zangina was in Maiduguri, to plan series of attacks against civilians and security personnel when he was apprehended.

“Zangina, a.k.a Malam Abdullahi, who is often referred to as Alhaji Musa, is the leader of Boko Haram in the north-central part of the country. He is reputed to be the coordinator of most of the suicide attacks and bombings in Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Jos and Potiskum. Zangina, who is a key member of the `Shura’ Committee of the Boko Haram terrorists, was on the government’s wanted list before his arrest”, Musa said.

As France intensifies its military campaign against the rebels, a source from Mali, who wishes anonymity for security reasons, disclosed that some members of Boko Haram sect who had been training and fighting alongside Malian rebels, would now be forced to fight for their lives instead of planning attacks on Nigeria. This, he said, would in effect lessen or stop terror attacks on Nigeria. The French intervention in the last few days, the source said, has had a devastating effect on rebels and consequently forced a good number of them, who had been fighting for the control of northern Mali, to flee to neighboring Niger and Mauritania. Boko Haram members are believed to constitute the bulk of the mercenaries’ fighting on the side of the rebels.

French troops
French troops

The Malian source said that apart from Mujwa, a Mali home grown terrorist group, the bulk of the other rebels, was from Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram from Nigeria. He said all these foreign rebels could be easily spotted among the Malians. This, in his estimation, could make them vulnerable, and the rebellion, easy to quell.

Last week, one Abu Dardah, a spokesperson for the fleeing rebels, whose name also bears semblance to Nigeria’s Boko Haram spokesperson, said the military action being carried out in Mali, was an attack against Islam. His motive was to rally other Mujahedeen, Muslim soldiers fighting in support of their strong belief, to come to their rescue. Oumar Hamaha, another spokesperson for the rebels, also threatened that France, by its latest action, had opened the gates of hell for all French citizens. “She has fallen into a trap which is much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia,” Hamaha said.

But France is not the only country that is involved in the military campaign against Malian rebels. Other ECOWAS countries alongside Nigeria would also be sending troops to complement the efforts of France. President Goodluck Jonathan announced on Monday, January 14, that Nigerian troops would be in Mali, in a matter of days to help restore peace to the troubled fellow West African country. Nigeria is expected to contribute at least 900 of the 3000 ECOWAS troops required for the operation. Analysts say Nigeria’s involvement in this operation is significant because an early resolution of the crisis in Mali, will be key to solving Nigeria’s own national security challenge.

Goodluck Jonathan deployed 900 Nigerian troops
Goodluck Jonathan deployed 900 Nigerian troops

In October last year, Nigeria’s intelligence report indicated that Mali’s northern region was being used as the operational base of the dreaded Boko Haram sect. For that reason, President Jonathan and Sambo Dasuki, his National Security Adviser, NSA, visited Bamako, the capital of Mali, for a meeting with the nation’s civilian and military authorities. The meeting had decided on a broad-based military action against the terrorists who had been taking advantage of the vast desert in the northern part of the country to establish training bases for terrorists. Security reports also suggested that Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s spiritual leader, might be based in Mali and that, efforts should be intensified to capture him.

If indeed, Boko Haram has its headquarters in Mali, as being suggested, the conflict is likely to disrupt its activities at least for sometime or even bring an end to its operations. The conflict in northern Mali, began in January 2012 and following the poor handling of the crisis by the civilian administration, a group of junior soldiers seized control of the presidential palace and dissolved the government on March 22, 2012. The military said the nation’s constitution had been suspended on the ground that the dissolved government was deliberately not giving arms to the military to quell the crisis in the northern part of the country.

On April 6, 2012, rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, MNLA, announced secession from the country, and the birth of a new state to be known as Azawad Republic. Shortly after, the MNLA was sidelined by Islamist groups associated with Al-Qaeda. The MNLA had to drop its demand for secession while the Islamists took control of the area. France, which always maintains a strong economic and political tie with its former colonies, then went on a military campaign to re-take the northern part from the Islamists. On January 13, France got the backing of the United Nations and commitment from ECOWAS to join it in the campaign.

Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, president of the ECOWAS Commission, and Ambassador Said Djinnit, the special representative of the UN secretary general to West Africa, met at the commission in Abuja, Monday, January 14, to review the cooperation between their institutions, especially the implementation of the UN Resolution 2085 on Mali. Also at the meeting was Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security and other senior officials of the Commission.

The Islamist rebels
The Islamist rebels

The officials emphasised the need to accelerate the implementation of Resolution 2085 and the intensification of consultations among partners, including the margins of the forth-coming high-level meetings of the African Union in Addis Ababa. Ambassador Djinnit, who led a four-member delegation, commended ECOWAS for its excellent work which is bearing positive impacts on Africa and beyond, in spite of its many challenges, including limited resources.

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has advised all the parties in the Malian conflict to do all it could to avoid civilian casualties. “All parties to the armed conflict in Mali, must ensure civilians are protected…there are real concerns that the fighting might lead to indiscriminate or other unlawful attacks in areas where members of armed Islamist groups and civilians are inter-mingled,”  said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International’s Africa deputy director.

The statement added that forces involved in armed attacks should avoid indiscriminate shelling at all costs, and do their utmost to prevent civilian casualties.

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