Jos market bombing may point to wider terror campaign by Boko Haram

Tuesday's car bombings devastated a market in Jos, Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims have clashed in the past. Boko Haram recently abducted hundreds of schoolgirls.

Stefanos Foundation/AP
Smoke rises after a bomb blast at a bus terminal in Jos, Nigeria, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Two explosions ripped through a bustling bus terminal and market frequented by thousands of people in Nigeria's central city of Jos on Tuesday afternoon.

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The death toll in a twin bomb attack in central Nigeria has climbed to more than 100 victims and may signal that Boko Haram is extending its reach into new regions of Africa’s most populous country.

Some 118 people have so far been confirmed dead in the fourth attack on an urban area in the past six weeks. No group has claimed responsibility, but suspicions quickly turned to Boko Haram, an Islamist group that operates mostly in the northeast. 

The back-to-back bombings, which took place 30 minutes apart in a bustling market about 170 miles northeast of the capital, Abuja, was “likely calculated” to stoke civil unrest in the country’s “most combustible ethnic and sectarian tinder box,” reports Reuters. 

Jos and the surrounding Plateau state have seen thousands killed in tit-for-tat violence between largely Christian Berom farmers and Muslim Fulani cattle herders over the past decade….

The city is in the heart of Nigeria's volatile "Middle Belt", where its largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet, and surrounding Plateau state is often a flashpoint for violence, although [a 2011] Christmas bombing failed to trigger any.

But in a sign it could, a mob of Christian youths armed with clubs advanced toward a Muslim part of Jos before police held them back, police spokeswoman Felicia Anselm said by telephone.

"The Christians were advancing toward us and I thought I was going to die," Dalami Aspar, who escaped a mob as they ran toward him in the street, told Reuters. 

Boko Haram seeks the creation of an Islamic state in Nigeria, where roughly half of the 170 million population is Christian. The group, which emerged in 2009, has launched an increasingly bloody and high-profile campaign in and around Nigeria.

“I think they are trying to make a statement, to let people know that despite international cooperation, they are not weakening,” Shamaki Gad Peter, who works in the Jos office of the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program, told The New York Times. “It’s a wake-up call. They are trying to make the country ungovernable,” he said of Boko Haram.

Earlier this month, more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria. Over the weekend neighboring governments agreed to join the country in cooperating militarily to stop Boko Haram’s spread, in addition to pledges of support from the United States, France, Israel, and Britain.

According to the Associated Press, Nigeria has asked the UN Security Council committee that monitors sanctions against terrorist groups like al Qaeda to add Boko Haram to its list.

The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states about a year ago, and on Tuesday the Senate voted to extend the state of emergency for an additional six months, reports AP. The extension would move forward only if President Goodluck Jonathan “devotes more money to the military campaign and to better arming demoralized soldiers, who say Boko Haram is better equipped.”

But for Nigerian citizens, trust in their government’s ability to make inroads against Boko Haram has increasingly eroded. According to The Christian Science Monitor:

For months, Nigeria has said little about the insurgent group that wants to create a sharia state in the northeast, and what it has said appears to lack authority or coordination. Tanimu Turaki, who heads a presidential committee tasked with dialogue with Boko Haram, said last week, after [terrorist group leader] Shekau’s video offer to swap girls for prisoners, that "the window of negotiation is still open."

Yet the next day Nigerian Senate President David Mark, from Mr. Jonathan's political party, said that "Nigeria will not negotiate with terrorists under any circumstance."

On May 15, the state-funded Voice of Nigeria station quoted Information Minister Labaran Maku as saying, "Government has made it very clear that we are ready to go to any length to secure the release of our daughters that have been in captivity." He said other statements "should be discounted." 

"I think these conflicting signals are not helping matters on the ground, because it is further creating confus[ion] in the whole process," said Shehu Sani, president of the Kaduna-based rights group, Civil Rights Congress.

Boko Haram is accused of killing more than 1,500 people in the first three months of this year alone, according to Amnesty International. That’s a little less than half the total from a three-year period between 2010 and 2013. 

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