JTF kills 4 in manhunt for Boko Haram •US seeks Nigeria’s support over Al-Qaeda’s presence in Sahel region

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Written by Olawale Rasheed, Adelowo Oladipo and Johnson Babajide with Agency Reports Thursday, 29 March 2012

ShareNIGERIAN forces swept through the  North-East on Wednesday, searching houses for suspected Boko Haram militants after killing four in a gun battle, the military said.

The crackdown on the group in its heartland of Maiduguri followed a spate of attacks in the past few days, including the killing of a prison official and a retired police inspector.

A Reuters reporter saw several military patrols stop in Maiduguri neighbourhood and carry out house to house searches.

Islamist sect, Boko Haram, has been unrelenting in its low level violent campaign against President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, which has continued since a brief flirtation with peace talks collapsed at the beginning of last week.

Months of gun and bomb attacks blamed on the sect have killed hundreds since it launched its uprising more than two years ago to try to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria.

Musa said on Wednesday that two militants, including a commander, were killed during an attempt to arrest them the day before as part of the crackdown.

“Following a tip-off, a special operation was conducted that resulted in the arrest of a commander of Boko Haram, who was involved in recent attacks in Maiduguri,” he said, adding that he was arrested with his lieutenant in Jajeri area of the city.

“They attempted to escape when being moved to detention facilities and were shot and they bled to death before they got to the hospital.”

In another incident, two militants were shot dead during a gun battle after they attempted to rob some houses, he said.

Jonathan declared a state of emergency in parts of the North affected by the insurgency at the end of December, boosting the military presence there. But the sect has continued to fight and spread its sphere of influence across the North.

Even northerners opposed to Boko Haram are wary of crackdowns by the security forces, who have been accused of being too heavy handed and indiscriminate, radicalising the population against them and boosting the sect’s support base.

Recent arrests and deaths of senior figures have weakened the group, analysts say, and it has not managed to launch a big, coordinated attack since one in Kano that killed 186 people in January, reverting to crude bomb attacks and shootings.

The smaller attacks remain deadly and show no sign of letting up.

In another development, following increasing confirmation of Al-Qaeda’s presence on Nigerian soil, the United States government is reported to be demanding that Nigeria add the Sahel region as part of its foreign policy focus.

The arrest in Kano of an alleged Al-Qaeda cell under a Mauritanian citizen is reported to be the clearest evidence yet of Sahel Al-Qaeda’s presence in Nigeria.

The Sahel region covers five nations, namely Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Algeria and Chad, all Northern neighbours of Nigeria with high presence of jihadists jointly connected to the Boko Haram and the Al-Qaeda worldwide network.

William Fitzgerald, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, had while fielding questions on the recent coup in Mali noted that Nigeria should be interested in the happenings in the Sahel as development in the areas had a lot to do with Islamic insurgency in Northern Nigeria.

While expressing doubt about strong ties between Boko Haram and Sahel Al-Qaeda, the American official noted that strong action by countries of the Sahel led by Algeria had curtailed the activities of the jihadists, a gain he feared may be eroded if Nigeria remains lukewarm to happenings in the region.

The American diplomat, who explained the successes of the American backed trans-Sahara anti-terrorism initiative commended the Joint Military and Intelligence Command created by the Sahel nations, falling short of directly inviting Nigeria to join the Algerian led force.

It will be recalled that Nigeria has so far been resisting pressure on it to join other Sahel nations in the fight against terrorists, such that until recently, Nigeria had no defence units in its embassies in Niger, Mali and other Sahel nations.

It was only in January that Nigeria attended the summit of the Sahel nation in observer status with a promise to fashion out a more robust policy towards the Sahel.

As Al-Qaeda is kidnapping for ransom gains foothold in Nigeria, the American government is also trying to differentiate the sect from Boko Haram so as not to alienate northern Nigeria.

Deputy Director for the Bureau of African Affairs in the Office of West African Affairs, Jason Small, said the US government does not view Boko Haram as an anti-Western group, but is cautious of the perception of US engagement with the Nigerian government by northern Nigerians.

“Could they take on a more anti-Western focus and could we invite more anti-Western attention by supporting the Nigeria government?” asks Small.

“Yes. We are trying to be as careful as possible, talking about the group with the government and its intentions, and looking at where we can be helpful,” the diplomat noted.

Small said the US did not see Boko Haram, AQIM and Al-Shabaab as inter-linked, but emphasised there had been contact between various groups that could be of concern, adding that the US did not see al-Qaida directly expanding into Nigeria.


JTF kills 4 in manhunt for Boko Haram •US seeks Nigeria’s support over Al-Qaeda’s presence in Sahel region