Nigerian authorities are tightening security in expectation of increased attacks by militants after the country sent troops to help expel Islamists from northern Mali, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.
The government is investigating links between Islamists in control of almost two-thirds of Mali and the Islamist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, Colonel Mohammed Yerima, director of information at Nigeria’s Defense Ministry, said in an interview today in the capital, Abuja.
“If they’re part of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, if they’re in support of the northern Mali crisis, there’s every possibility that they will heighten their attacks,” he said. “On our own side, we’re strategizing how to counter them.”
Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous nation, is battling an insurgency by Boko Haram that has killed hundreds of people since 2009. The group, which wants to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, has carried out bomb and gun attacks in the mainly Muslim north and Abuja. Nigeria’s more than 160 million people are almost evenly split between the north and a largely Christian south.
Nigeria is sending 1,200 troops to Mali to join soldiers from France and other West African countries seeking to recapture territory lost to Islamist militants and ethnic Touareg separatists. The crisis may spill into Nigeria if not brought under control, President Goodluck Jonathan told lawmakers on Jan. 17.
“There’s no difference between them and Boko Haram. It’s just a different name,” Yerima said, referring to Islamist insurgents in northern Mali. “We treat them the same.”
France started airstrikes on Mali’s north on Jan. 11 to help the army re-take control of the area from Islamist militants who seek to impose a strict version of Shariah law on the landlocked nation.
French and Malian troops seized the towns of Diabaly and Douentza yesterday after reclaiming Konna on Jan. 18, according to the French Defense Ministry.
Gunmen opened fire at a convoy of soldiers in the central Nigerian state of Kogi on Jan. 19 as they were on their way to Mali, leaving two dead, the army said on Jan. 20.
A French engineer was kidnapped Dec. 20 from the northern Nigerian city of Katsina by an Islamist group that identified itself as Jama’atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan, or “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in The Land of The Black.”
The group said in a Dec. 23 statement it abducted Frances Colump in response to “the stance of the French government and the French people on Islam and Muslims,” which included banning the Muslim veil and support for military intervention against “the Islamic state in northern Mali.”
Colump’s kidnapping from his home in Katsina was the latest in a growing number of abductions in northern Nigeria targeting Western nationals.
A British citizen and an Italian seized last year from the northwestern town of Birnin Kebbi were killed in the city of Sokoto in March by their captors during a joint raid by British and Nigerian forces to free them. Nigerian authorities accused Boko Haram of the abduction. Boko Haram denied it was involved.
A German engineer kidnapped in the northern city of Kano in January last year was killed by his captors on May 30 when an attempt was made by security forces to release him.