The Nigerian government said some members of Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group it’s been fighting since 2009, were trained in northern Mali and have links with Islamist insurgents controlling the region.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, sent troops to help expel Islamists from northern Mali as a part of the West African country’s own fight against Boko Haram, “because we know that there was a linkage between them and the groups in Mali,” Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru said in an interview yesterday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
“Some of those characters were trained in northern Mali,” Ashiru said. “So if we can destroy their capability in northern Mali it will help us at home.”
Nigeria, Africa’s 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, the capital. 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.
The government is investigating links between Boko Haram and Islamist insurgents in control of almost two-thirds of Mali, Colonel Mohammed Yerima, director of information at Nigeria’s Defense Ministry, said Jan. 22.
Yerima said there’s no difference between the Mali-based Islamists and Boko Haram, and Nigerian authorities will treat them the same way. He said there is “every possibility that they will heighten their attacks.”
Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Lamido Sanusi backed the government’s move, urging the Nigerian forces to try to find the training camps in northern Mali and stop the militants from there. The 2011 ouster of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya destabilized the region, with many sub-Saharan Africans in his army fleeing to their countries with weapons, he said.
“A lot of this problem seems to be emanating from the deserts of Mauritania and Mali and of course southern Algeria,” Sanusi said in an interview today at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “So, it’s in the interest of the country to go to the source and nip it.”
Boko Haram has links with militant groups in North Africa and in northern Mali, President Jonathan told CNN on Jan. 23. He rejected accusations by rights groups that the Nigerian authorities are inflaming the situation by committing abuses in their crackdown on Boko Haram.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Nigerian forces committed extrajudicial killings, shot detained people dead or beat people to death in detention and in the streets. The groups said actions by Nigerian forces are illegal and are inflaming civilians who aren’t linked to the group, giving Boko Haram more ground to recruit people.
Jonathan called these accusations “insinuations by interest groups.” He also denied claims by rights groups that government corruption and poverty are among the root causes of the problem.
“Boko Haram isn’t the result of misrule, definitely not. And sometimes we’ll feel that it’s the result of poverty, definitely not,” Jonathan said on CNN. “We shouldn’t play politics with Boko Haram.”
The extrajudicial killing of founder Mohammed Yusuf and other members in 2009 became “a rallying cry for the group’s subsequent violent campaign,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in an October report. Government corruption, police brutality, inter-communal violence and poverty, which is more severe in the north, are among the problems that provide a fertile environment for Boko Haram to recruit, it said.
Both Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces may be guilty of crimes against humanity in the conflict that left 2,800 people dead, including more than 1,500 victims of Boko Haram attacks, Human Rights Watch said.