Terror in Africa

Jihadists take deadly aim at Christians from Nigeria to Somalia.

Boko Haram bombing Nigeria 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boko Haram bombing Nigeria 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Africa today has an estimated population of nearly one billion people spread out among its 54 nations. The continent has a long and rich history but has also faced many difficulties, such as the slave trade and colonial exploitation. In modern times, Africa has undergone dramatic changes, including a wave of liberation that has birthed many new independent states.
But Africa’s problems are far from over, and chief among them is a raging religious conflict ripping the continent in half, though it receives little attention in the world media.
Sub-Saharan Africa has become increasingly Christian, while the northern arid nations remain largely Arab and Muslim. The dividing line between these two great religions now runs roughly parallel to 10 degrees latitude North, and as tensions have grown along this seam, an array of militant Islamic groups have resorted to unspeakable acts of violence and terror against their Christian neighbors.
This brutal campaign against African Christians by radical jihadist militias has become so horrific that it is finally capturing headlines. Newsweek recently devoted a cover feature to the bloodbath in which Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the renowned Somali author and former Dutch parliamentarian, insisted that the current Islamist assault on Christians in Africa and indeed around the world is “a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.”
Trail of terror
Islamic terror attacks in sub-Saharan Africa are nothing new, and neither is the lack of media coverage. The tragic bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which left some 270 people dead over Lockerbie, Scotland, was a major story in 1988 and remains so to this day. Yet few recall that the very next year, UTA flight 772 took off from the Republic of Congo on its way to France, but a bomb hidden on board blew the aircraft apart over the Saharan desert, killing 170 passengers. Islamic Jihad was quick to take the responsibility for the attack, but the blame later shifted to the same Libyan regime that carried out the Pan Am attack.
In 1998, simultaneous bombings rocked the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed 264 people, the majority of them native Africans, and introduced Osama bin Laden to the world.
Then on November 28, 2002, Muslim terrorists struck once again, this time in Mombasa, Kenya. Jihadists struck at an Israeli-owned resort hotel near the Kenyan coastal town, killing 13 people while injuring 80. Ten of the casualties were native Kenyans. A Lebanese group called the Army of Palestine later took responsibility for the attack.
These attacks may have been carried out by Muslim groups with certain political agendas against Israel or the West, but the more recent brand of Islamist terror in Africa is aimed directly at their local Christian neighbors. This terror campaign has intensified over the past year, due to an alarming influx of weapons and jihadists, including from Iran and from war-torn Libya. One of the gloomiest impacts of the Arab Spring has been the smuggling of weapons from post-Gaddafi Libya into sub- Saharan Africa and more specifically the Sahel region.
The burning divide
The Sahel stretches from Senegal and Mauritania on the Atlantic across Africa, all the way to Ethiopia and Somalia on the Indian Ocean, dividing several countries along an east-west axis, with regions to the north dominated by Muslims and those to the south predominantly Christian.
Undoubtedly, the worst of the violence along this religious divide has been seen in recent years in northern Nigeria, which is reeling from relentless attacks on Christians by the now notorious jihadist militia Boko Haram.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with some 160 million citizens, about half of whom are Muslims living mainly in the north, while Christians make up some 40 percent of the country’s inhabitants and reside mostly in the south. Clashes between these Muslim and Christian communities have plagued Nigeria for some time now, but the rate and intensity of the Muslim terror assaults on Christians has sharply escalated in recent years.
The tensions dramatically rose in 2006, when riots broke out in the city of Maiduguri, in the northeastern state of Borno, after radical Muslims burned down 12 churches in protests against the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Out of Nigeria’s 36 states, Muslim Shari’a law is in force in 12 provinces, with local citizens allowed to choose between Shari’a, customary or common law. One of the radical Islamic groups fighting for greater enforcement of Shari’a is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, or “the People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” It has also come to be more commonly known as Boko Haram – which literally means “Western education is forbidden.”
Founded in 2002 by the sincedeceased Muhammad Yusuf, the group is presently headed by Abubakar Shekau. Boko Haram members belong to the puritanical Salafist movement.
One of its spokesmen, Abu Qaqa, recently told the UK-based daily The Guardian that the group will not give up on its deadly attacks until Shari’a is imposed in the entire country.
“We will consider negotiation only when we have brought the government to their knees. Once we see that things are being done according to the dictates of Allah, and our members are released from prison, we will only put aside our arms, but we will not lay them down.
You don’t put down your arms in Islam, you only put them aside,” Abu Qaqa stated.
Boko Haram carried out its first terror attack in 2010 and has since killed more than 1,000 Nigerian Christians in a spate of deadly terror attacks. During 2011, the group was responsible for killing some 500 people and destroying 350 churches. So far in 2012, Boko Haram has claimed another 235 victims.
Last August, the group brazenly attacked the United Nations offices in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, killing 23 and wounding 80 by plowing a car bomb into the building. An additional 40 victims were added on Christmas Day, as worshipers at the St. Theresa Catholic church in Abuja were attacked as they finished their morning service.
In early January, Boko Haram gave Christians living in northern Nigeria an ultimatum to leave the region within three days or more deaths would follow. The threat proved serious, as a wave of bombings on January 20 in the city of Kano left 185 people dead. Many of the area’s Christians have fled, some into neighboring Cameroon.
“When you scent danger, you must escape,” said a Nigerian priest who has left the country. “Even in the Gospel, the Lord says the moment you sense danger, you must escape. If you don’t, its suicide,” he told a local paper.
A nasty network
 “It’s important to understand that Boko Haram is in collaboration with other organizations, and is linked to the strategy and the ability of global jihadists to operate on African soil,” Dr Eitan Azani, one of Israel’s leading experts on African jihadists, recently told The Christian Edition.
Deputy director of the Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Azani assessed that these networks of Islamist cells in Nigeria have indeed grown stronger since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year, due to the large amount of weapons being smuggled into the region. He described the situation as “a real nightmare.”
Boko Haram is not the only radical Islamist group terrorizing Christians in Africa. To the north, in Chad, Niger, Mali and Algeria, an al-Qaida affiliate called AQIM has become extremely active. The militia first surfaced in 2008 with an attack on the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott, the capital of Mali. While the main objective of AQIM is to remove the Algerian government and install an Islamic caliphate, the militia is also running several terror training camps in the Maghreb, while also kidnapping Western tourists and non-Muslim workers. Last November, five Westerners were kidnapped and a German citizen was shot dead by the radical Islamist group. Currently, AQIM is holding 12 Westerners hostage.
Meanwhile in East Africa, the jihadist group al-Shabaab, an offshoot of the Somalia Islamic Court Union, is carrying out deadly operations throughout the Horn of Africa. The group’s first leader, Adan Hashi Farah Ayro, got his start as a mujahid (a Muslim engaged in what he considers to be jihad) in Afghanistan and returned to build a militia along the same structure as the Taliban.
Al-Shabaab shares several similarities with Boko Haram, and its stated objectives are to fight the enemies of Islam, oust Somalia’s current transitional government and impose strict Shari’a law in the failed state of Somalia. To accomplish these ends, the group is waging war against the African Union Mission in Somalia.
During 2011, it was responsible for killing some 100 soldiers mainly from Uganda and Burundi, who were in Somalia as part of a UN-commissioned peace-keeping force. In July 2010, the group also carried out two terror attacks in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, killing 74 people.
Al-Shabaab has also been involved in kidnapping Africans and Westerners.
Last year, for instance, the group abducted a French journalist who later died in captivity.
David Zounmenou, from the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, concurred with Azani’s claims that these various African jihadist groups are not working alone.
“Al-Shabaab will probably come and help their brothers [in Boko Haram] who are defending the same kind of Islamic ideology they are trying to impose on their people back home.”
To combat this growing network of Muslim terror cells, several African nations are turning to a country with extensive experience in fighting radical Islamic groups – Israel. Kenya recently signed a cooperation agreement with Jerusalem, in which Israeli security experts will share their counter-terrorism expertise with Kenyan police and intelligence forces.
In a similar move, the deputy head of mission of Israel’s embassy in Nigeria, George Deek, recently offered the country Israeli assistance in fighting radical Islamists.
According to Dr. Azani, it makes sense for the two countries to cooperate.
“Nigerian security doesn’t really have a well-organized security system.
I think that they suffer from lack of understanding of Boko Haram and how to fight terror, of ways of operation and how to strategize their activities,” Azani said.
“I think that the Nigerians today haven’t really done a comprehensive study on the real threat. You can’t respond to a problem if you really don’t know what you are dealing with,” he concluded.