THE MAGAZINE

Terrorism’s New Paradigm in West Africa

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

It is predictable that the Boko Haram Islamists would want to become the overlords of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and other Sahel nations. The words that make up the extremist organization’s name mean “western education is sinful.” The group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in 2009, wanted to found an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law that curtailed all Western influences. What may have kept Yusuf’s goal unattainable is Boko Haram’s lack of a strict leadership structure and a propensity to fragment.

All of Boko Haram’s splinter groups have, however, still managed to cause grief in Nigeria. Their campaign of violence, which began in 2009, has included destroying a United Nations building in Abuja; attacks on churches, schools, police, and the military; and the assassination of Nigerian Civil War hero Major General Muhammad Shuwa, said Ekhomu.

He warned that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) must be proactive in heading off the radicalization of young Muslim men. “In Nigeria, we have a 50-50 split in the population between Muslims and Christians…. But when you have [radicals] pouring venom into the ears of these young men, they become like different animals,” stated Ekhomu. “Part of the problem is our government hasn’t quite realized that there is a lot of radicalization going on in prisons. Worse yet, you have CDs being made in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, being sent into Nigeria and other West African nations,” as well as extremist Web sites and videos that spread the Islamist viewpoint. “We have a very bad problem, and the way for ECOWAS to deal with this is not to wait,” he said.

Another troubling aspect of Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and other ultra-Islamist groups is the view that not only are all non-Muslims considered fair targets, but some Muslims are too, according to Ekhomu.

Ekhomu explained to his audience that Boko Haram achieves some of its financing from kidnapping people and holding them for ransom. “They got a billion Naira ($3 million) for a French family seized in Cameroon…. And they also rob banks and get some good cash from them,” he said.

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