Boko Haram may expand reach: expert

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iol news pic Shekau Boko Haram Associated Press This image, taken from video posted by Boko Haram sympathisers, shows the leader of the radical Islamist sect, Abubakar Shekau. File picture: AP

Cape Town - Boko Haram's insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria may link the Islamic extremist movement to the global militant network, an expert warned on Monday.

“I am convinced that there is some kind of outreach between al-Qaeda and the Maghreb... people talk about formal training for Boko Haram and operatives in Sudan but also Somalia,” Ola Bello, of the SA Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), told the Cape Town Press Club.

“I think I will give more credence to this sort of view today than three years ago, so I think there is some global link.”

Bello said he believed Boko Haram foresaw and intended the international outrage and media coverage its abduction of 276

school girls in April created.

“With this groundswell of international interest that we have seen, there is no doubt about it that in terms of who has won the public relations war on this, Boko Haram has probably benefitted more than the Nigerian state.

“Is that going to allow them to secure some of the international connections and resources and all that international jihadists have been reluctant to provide previously?

“If that happens it would be a very sad outcome for the Nigerian state.”

Bello, who heads the African resources governance programme at SAIIA, believed the government of President Goodluck Jonathan did not immediately grasp the implications of the abduction for the biggest economy in Africa.

“The abduction of the girls presented a real turning point. I think it is a crisis the president and his advisers take very seriously, but I do not think they fully appreciate the enormity of the crisis in terms of the way the international community perceives the Nigerian state and how capable it is and can provide security for its citizens and investors.

“In that sense they did not react as quickly as they should have.”

He said the government needed foreign help to handle the crisis, but must weigh its options carefully because it would be disastrous to allow an operation that targeted Boko Haram with drone missiles, for example.

“The last thing many of us would see is an international intervention instrumentalised to promote the American war on terror and the American objective in a way that is disregarding of the views of the people living on the ground.”

At the same time, Western sanctions were unlikely to have any impact on a group who did not travel or hold foreign bank accounts.

Bello said the dire socio-economic realities of the north-east Ä in contrast to the flourishing south Ä had allowed support for Boko Haram to grow.

“Boko Haram has successfully tapped into this groundswell of dissatisfaction to say the prevailing order has not served people well in this part of the country.”

But the violence had only worsened the situation to the extent that basic services such as health and education there were now among the worst in Africa.

“Nobody with money to invest in their right mind wants to go to north-eastern Nigeria at this present time given the security challenges ... so the initial problems have become worse since the insurgency became full-blown.

Sapa


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