Insight and foresight from the global frontlines

Nigeria's Boko Haram targets top leaders at home and abroad

Boko Haram last week tried to assassinate a moderate Muslim prayer leader and a leading contender for Nigeria's presidency. Its latest abductee is the wife of Cameroon's deputy prime minister Amadou Ali. 

Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
A 'Bring Back Our Girls' campaigner addresses supporters at the Unity Fountain, on the 100th day of the abductions of more than 200 school girls by the Boko Haram, in Abuja, July 23.

Boko Haram is being blamed for yesterday's abduction of the wife of Cameroon’s deputy prime minister as well as a local mayor. Their capture comes only days after the extremist group attempted to assassinate two prominent Muslim leaders in northeast Nigeria and underscores the growing threat it poses to a corner of West Africa where Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad share borders. 

For much of the past year Boko Haram’s strategy has been to destabilize Nigeria by sowing fear and terror on a mass scale in three northeastern states. More than 1,000 people have died since the beginning of 2014, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Boko Haram appears to control swaths of territory in Nigeria's northeast, where its massacres of Muslims, Christians, students and others, along with lurid videos and endless supply of AK-47s, are aimed at establishing a medieval-style region ostensibly governed by sharia law.

Former US ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell views the cross-border aspect of the latest attack as less significant since Boko Haram members already pay scant attention to such borders. "They want a [Muslim] caliphate. We ascribe more importance to cross-border elements than they do," he says. 

In Cameroon, Boko Haram has been engaged by security forces in recent weeks as the group has continued to run back and forth across the vast border. Cameroon is under pressure to find more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in the northeast Nigerian town of Chibok last April.

A group of 30 gunmen attacked the compound of Cameroon's vice president as family members were observing Ramadan, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma told Reuters:

I can confirm that the home of Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali in Kolofata came under a savage attack from Boko Haram militants…They unfortunately took away his wife. They also attacked the Lamido's residence [the local mayor] and he was also kidnapped.

The name of Mr. Ali's wife has not been released. 

Last Wednesday a leading political figure and a prominent religious leader in the Nigerian city of Kaduna were targeted by Boko Haram suicide bombers. The two attacks killed more than 70 people but missed the men, Sheik Dahiru Bauchi and Muhammadu Buhari.

Mr. Bauchi has been critical of Boko Haram’s Islamist rhetoric and its scattered leadership. Mr. Buhari is a former military leader in Nigeria considered now to be a main challenger in next year’s election to President Goodluck Jonathan. Analysts say a successful attack on the men could have triggered serious civil unrest in Kaduna.

Mr. Campbell, who conducts a "security tracker" for Nigeria at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says the abduction of the vice president's wife is probably a "serious warning" to Cameroon's leadership. He points out that Boko Haram may also be crossing the border in search of food, as there are shortages in the region.

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