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In Nigeria, a radical Islamic sect known as Boko Haram carried out a series of terrorist attacks killing more than 100 people in the states of Borno and Yobe on Friday. Yobe’s capital city of Damaturu bore the brunt of the damage when a car bomb exploded outside a military office and barracks, killing several security agents. The terrorist assault continued through the night when rampaging gunmen blew up a bank, and attacked at least three police stations, and five churches, leaving behind nothing but rubble, officials said. Gunmen also raided the nearby village of Potiskum, leaving at least two people dead there, according to witnesses. A Boko Haram spokesman calling himself Abul-Qaqa promised more of the same. “We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop their excesses on our members and vulnerable civilians,” he warned.
Boko Haram, which translates from the local Hausa language into “Western education is sacrilege” in English, wants to impose Sharia law over the entire oil-rich nation of 160 million people, despite the fact the country is evenly divided into a largely Muslim north and a largely Christian south. The sect completely rejects the notion of Western-inspired democracy, which they contend has corrupted government officials.
Government spokesman Reuben Abati, speaking on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan, said that “every step will be taken” to arrest those responsible for the carnage. “The security agencies will tell you that what happens on this scale is even a fraction of what could have happened considering the scope of the threat,” Abati said. “The security agencies are busy at work trying to make sure the will of the majority of the Nigerian people is not subverted by a minority with a suicidal streak.”
Yet if the Associated Press is correct, reality is far more complicated. Boko Haram has reportedly split itself into three separate factions, all of which have different goals. One faction is ostensibly moderate and welcomes an end to all violence. A second faction wants a peace agreement similar to the one offered to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in 2009, which included a presidential pardon, a rehabilitation program, and education and training.
The third faction rejects any compromise. Its spiritual leader, imam Abubakar Shekau, heard speaking in a scratchy recording obtained by the AP, insists that holy war is the only way to bring about change. “Whomever we kill, we kill because Allah says we should kill and we kill for a reason,” Shekau says in the recording, characterized as a sermon. Underscoring this faction’s seriousness is the readiness to kill one of their own members. In September, a representative of one of the moderate factions of Boko Haram was executed for negotiating with former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This attack, coupled with one in August on a United Nations compound in Abuja, which killed 24 and wounded 116, indicates the group’s continued potency, despite a 2009 crackdown. In July of that year, a riot and a military response left 700 people dead. Former Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed in police custody in Maiduguri, the sect’s spiritual home. Human Rights Watch called the killing “extrajudicial” and “illegal” at the time. Moreover, the subsequent crackdown following last August’s attack, which human rights activists contend has resulted in the deaths of innocents, may be fueling the insurgency.
Three other factors may be fueling it as well. One is the disappointment many northern Nigerians felt when the implementation of Sharia in northern states from 1999 to 2001 failed to eliminate corruption, fix the northern economy, or address feelings of political irrelevance. Second was the April election to the presidency of southern Christian Goodluck Jonathan, following the death of northern Muslim Umaru Yar’Adua. This ostensibly violated an unofficial power-sharing agreement by which the presidency rotates every two terms, between north and south. Thirdly, is the reality that Nigeria is a nation divided not only by religion, but by an economy characterized as a “prosperous, oil-rich south and its economically deprived, semi-arid north.”
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