Boko Haram attacks show new range, sophistication

Recent attacks by Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram drive home to politicians the need to bring isolated northern Nigeria into alignment with the government.

By , Guest blogger

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    People gather at the scene after an suicide bomb explosion at the Police force headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria on June 16.
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Last week, Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement claimed responsibility for a bombing at the police headquarters in the capital Abuja. Boko Haram has struck outside of its base in the Northeast before, but the Abuja bombing and other recent attacks have shown that the group is expanding its geographical range and increasing the sophistication of its attacks, sometimes coordinating multiple strikes at once.

Another example of these trends came yesterday in Katsina State, which is slightly west of the center of Nigeria’s upper North (map), and a fair distance from Boko Haram’s stronghold of Borno State (map). Accounts of the attack vary slightly, but here is AFP’s report:

Suspected members of the radical Boko Haram Islamist sect on Monday staged simultaneous bomb and gun attacks on a police station and a bank killing seven people, witnesses and local journalists said.

The dead included five policemen, witnesses said, in an attack coming just four days after the sect bombed the country’s police headquarters in the capital Abuja killing at least two.

A gang of 10 gunmen launched the two attacks on a police station and a bank in Kankara town, 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of the northern city of Katsina.

AFP’s whole piece is worth reading for a sense of Boko Haram’s tactics.

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This attack follows threats by Boko Haram to stage attacks throughout the North and indeed throughout the country. The “nationalization” of the Boko Haram problem will intensify pressure on elected leaders and security forces to deal decisively with the group and prevent further attacks. Nigerian officials have proposed solutions ranging from crackdowns to outreach programs to amnesty offers. The government has to some extent pursued all of these options. Yesterday former Kano State GovernorIbrahim Shekarau proposed a hybrid approach of sorts, which would rely on intelligence gathering to defeat the group while advancing employment programs to deal with social and political grievances in Northern society.

Whatever course the government pursues, the Boko Haram problem has already led several Northern leaders, including the newly elected Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, to speak quite bluntly about the North’s serious problems of economic stagnation and political isolation. Northerners have been voicing such concerns for some time, but perhaps now these concerns will reach a broader audience and stimulate a debate that goes beyond just the issue of Boko Haram.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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