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Sahel: Islamic Fundamentalist Organisations Tighten Their Grip

[All links to articles in French unless stated otherwise] 

For a few months now, two religious Islamic fundamentalist organisations, Boko Haram and AQIM (Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb), have intensified their war against the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the surrounding nations.

On December 25, 2011, Boko Haram coordinated explosions against Christians [en], including one at a church near Abuja that killed at least 37 people. On December 12, an AQIM offshoot calling itself Jamat Tawhid wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – MOJWA) released a video [en] of three abducted European aid workers in Algeria.

These religious groups are attempting to spread their activities into countries of the Sahel region. The regional blogosphere has quickly reacted to recent attacks showing concern and providing thorough analyses.

Boko Haram recruits arrested by police forces in Biafra. Photo posted to yfrog by @tianmine

Boko Haram recruits arrested by police forces in Biafra. Photo posted to yfrog by @tianmine

Philippe Hugon's post, published on the Grotius website, provides one of the cause of the increasingly perilous tension threatening Nigeria's unity:

Dans la capitale de l’État des plateaux, à Jos, les conflits opposent ainsi les Fulani musulmans aux Berom chrétiens, deux populations qui disposent de droits différents. Quant aux mouvances islamiques du Nord, elles sont plurielles (soufisme des confréries traditionnelles, mouvements salafiste, maadhistes et chiites) avec 12 États (sur 36) qui ont instauré la charia.

In Jos, the administrative capital city of the Plateau State, the conflicts are between the Muslim Fulani and the Christian Berom, two group of populations who have different sets of rights. There are various Islamic cultures in the North with different influences (traditional brotherhood of Sufism, Salafist movement, Madhist and Shiites) and with 12 states (out of 36) that have introduced sharia law.

According to the author, far from becoming weaker, the movement is growing and presents serious cause for concern:

La question la plus importante, en raison des bouleversements intervenus en Libye, est à présent la prolifération de la nébuleuse AQMI. Le mouvement anti occidental Boko Haram, apparu après le 11 septembre 2001, localisé dans l’État de Borno développe désormais le djihadisme ; il s’est scindé en plusieurs branches dont l’une est proche des Chebabs de Somalie et d’Aqmi. Or par sa radicalisation et ses actions violentes, il favorise un clivage religieux engendrant un engrenage des violences, des représailles et de la répression.

The most important issue right now, owing to the disruptions that took place in Libya, is the proliferation of the nebulous AQMI. The anti-western movement, Boko Haram, that surfaced after September 11, 2001, confined in the state of Borno, has henceforth adopted jihad; it is divided into many branches, one of which has ties to the Chebabs of Somalia and AQMI. Through violent and radical actions, this group promotes religious splits causing a spiral of violence, repression and retaliation.

On January 26, 2012, the United Nations published a report by a team that travelled to many of the Sahel countries, in order to investigate the local impact of the civil war in Libya. According to this report, armed groups such as the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria and AQMI would have had access to a dangerous arms cache.

Antoine Barbizon, wrote a post on the subject, on the Geo Tribune blog saying the following:

Les gouvernements et responsables des États dans lesquels s’est rendue l’équipe d’évaluation de l’ONU ont communiqué les informations en leur possession selon lesquelles de grandes quantités d’armes en provenance de Libye seraient parvenues illégalement dans de nombreux pays du Sahel. Livré clandestinement par d’anciens combattants de Libye, des soldats et des mercenaires à la solde du Colonel Mouammar Kadhafi, cet arsenal comprendrait des lance-grenades, des mitrailleuses avec visée inti-aérienne, des fusils automatiques, des munitions, des grenades, des explosifs ainsi que de l’artillerie légère montée sur véhicules. Ces armes seraient cachées dans le désert et une partie d’entre elles vendues aux groupes terroristes. Le rapport de l’équipe de l’ONU évoque également l’inquiétante perspective d’un rapprochement entre Boko Haram et AQMI, les deux groupes ayant décidé d’étendre leurs actions au-delà de leurs périmètres actuels.

The governments and officials of the states that were visited by the evaluating United Nations team provided information they had in their possession, that large quantities of weapons from Libya would have entered illegally in many Sahel countries. Smuggled by ex-Libyan fighters, soldiers and mercenaries of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, this arsenal included grenade launchers, anti-aircraft machine guns, automatic rifles, ammunition, grenades, explosives, as well as light artillery mounted vehicles. These weapons were hidden in the desert and some of them were sold to terrorist groups. The United Nations report highlights the troubling prospect of a rapprochement between Boko Haram and AQMI, the two groups having decided to expand their actions beyond their current perimeters.

The people of neighbouring Sahel countries are expressing their fear about the situation and the risks of overflow. In Cameroon, many Internet surfers are reporting a dangerous evolution. Elizabeth Kendal writes in her blog [en]:

Garga Aoudou, a community activist with a Dutch development organization, told IPS that Garoua has been “literally inundated with fliers inciting Muslims towards a hatred of Christians”. Aoudou continues, “Religious fanatics exhort Muslims to increase the number of marriages between young Muslim men and Christian girls in order to convert them to Islam, to refuse to rent houses or sell land to Christians – or to get them to move by raising the rent”.

On the blog sanfinna.com, Jean Baptiste Naudet writes:

C’est l’un des pires cauchemars des services de renseignement. Et il est en train de se matérialiser. Au Nigeria, la secte islamiste Boko Haram (ce qui signifie « l’éducation occidentale est un péché » en haoussa) est en train non seulement de monter en puissance et de se radicaliser, mais surtout de devenir un centre puissant de l’arc du terrorisme qui va de la Mauritanie à la Somalie.

….Lors des attaques régulièrement lancées par la secte contre des commissariats, des églises ou des prisons dans le nord, les morts se comptent par centaines. Outre la montée de la violence, le développement de la nébuleuse terroriste d’Al-Qaida hors du Sahel inquiète car il correspond au retour des combattants subsahariens (pro-Kadhaf) de Libye, ainsi qu’à l’arrivée d’armes lourdes en provenance des arsenaux pillés de ce pays.

It's one of the worst nightmares of intelligence agencies and it is being carried out. In Nigeria, the Islamic sect Boko Haram (meaning “western education is a sin”, in Hausa language) is not only increasing in power and becoming more radical but is also becoming a powerful centre for terrorism, extending from Mauritania to Somalia.

..During the frequent attacks launched by the sect in the north, against police, churches and prisons, hundreds are left for dead. In addition to the escalation in violence, the development of the nebulous terrorism of Al Quaida outside of the Sahel is of great concern, as it corresponds to the return of Sub-Saharan Libyan fighters (pro-Gaddafi) as well as the arrival of heavy weapons from this country's arsenal.

The Mautitanian site noorinfo.com writes:

La Mauritanie, l'Algérie, le Niger et le Mali sont confrontés à une insécurité croissante liée aux activités d'Aqmi et d'autres groupes criminels, ainsi qu'à l'afflux d'armes, dont de l'armement lourd, issues du conflit libyen.

Mauritania, Algeria, Niger and Mali are confronted with a growing sense of insecurity linked to the activities of AQMI and other criminal groups, as well as to the influx of weapons and heavy armament stemming from the Libyan conflict.

Muslims understand that they too are hostages and that violence towards Christians, is also of concern to them and that they must be involved in preventing it. In an interview on the camer.be site, Ernest Djonga, regional president of the Islamic Youth of the North group, explained the measures taken thus far by his movement and by the Muslim religious authorities, in order to confront the challenge posed by the presence of Bako Haram in the North of Cameroon.

Voyant le danger venir, nous avons sollicité l’intervention du Lamido [la plus haute autorité traditionnelle] de l’époque, le regretté Ibrahim Abbo, qui avait pris des dispositions fortes en réglementant la fonction de prédicateur et au niveau de la Jeunesse islamique du Cameroun, nous nous sommes attelés à superviser les différents thèmes à développer dans les 19 mosquées … [de] la ville de Garoua. Cette méthode s’est pérennisée sous le règne de sa majesté Alim Garga Hayatou. Des garde-fous ainsi posés nous ont permis de sélectionner les prédicateurs certifiés et agréés.

Seeing the danger approaching, we solicited Lamido's intervention (the highest traditional authority) the late lamented Ibrahim Abbo who took strong measures in controlling the preachers’ duties. At the level of the Islamic Youth of Cameroon, we got down to work, supervising the different themes to be developed in 19 mosques in the town of Garoua. This method was perpetuated under the reign of his majesty Alim Garga Hayatou. Safeguards that were installed, allowed us to select registered, certified preachers.

It is in this context that old ancestral conflicts that had simmered are now re-awakening, such as in the North of Mali where thousands of people were obliged to flee their village to take refuge in neighbouring countries.

The temoust.org site, Tuareg Survie, published a communique on the conflict, indicating that:

Au moins 30 000 personnes sont déplacées au Mali et vivent dans des conditions extrêmement précaires, à la suite des combats opposant l’armée malienne à des groupes armés dans le nord du pays depuis la mi-janvier. Le CICR porte assistance à des milliers d’entre elles, ainsi qu’à 15 000 autres déplacés au Niger voisin. Il a également pu visiter des détenus et soigner des blessés au Mali.

At least 30,000 people have been displaced in Mali and are living in extremely precarious conditions, due to fighting since mid-January, between the Mali army and armed groups North of the country. CICR is assisting thousands among them, as well as 15,000 others that were displaced in neighbouring Niger. The organization was also able to visit detainees and to care for the wounded in Mali.

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