By Jemal Oumar
A recent suicide bomb attack on a UN building in Nigeria revealed a far-reaching terrorist nexus that stretches from Mauritania to Somalia, passing through Mali, Algeria, Niger and Nigeria.
Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram (translated as “western education is dangerous”) engineered the August 26th Abuja bombing that left 23 dead and scores wounded. The group is linked to both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Somalia’s al-Shabab.
Accused attack mastermind Mamman Nur, 35, is “a notorious Boko Haram element with al-Qaeda links who returned recently from Somalia”, Nigeria’s Department of State Services said in a statement. He remains at large.
“The possible relation between Boko Haram and AQIM is worrying observers and security agencies in Sahel countries,” said Bechir Ould Babana, editor-in-chief of SaharaMedias and an expert on Salafist group ideology.
“The short time interval between the two attacks that were launched by Boko Haram and AQIM on the UN headquarters and the military academy in Algeria is one of those assumptions,” he added.
Boko Haram’s “use of advanced bombs similar to those used by al-Qaeda shows that the latter supplies the former with weapons or that the source that supplies both with weapons is the same.” Ould Babana said. “Moreover, both organisations depend on media war in jihadist websites.”
According to Iselmou Ould Moustafa, an expert on terrorist groups, “the entangled relation between al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and al-Shabab al-Mujahideen already exists”.
Mamman Nur maintains “strong ties with Shabab al-Mujahideen and still has a group of followers there”, he added.
“It’s no surprise that the three groups – Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and al-Shabab al-Mujahideen – would have links with each other,” terrorism analyst Rabie Ould Adoum told Magharebia. “The strategy that the parent al-Qaeda has been seeking to implement for a while is to try to find a foothold in black Africa because of the Western presence there,” he said.
Terrorist groups try to “take advantage of the conditions of African young people and weak security and military control in some Sahel countries,” Ould Adoum said.
“It’s also known that the regional terrorist organisations are dealing with opportunism with the parent al-Qaeda,” he added. “In each terrorist attack, these organisations rush to declare their allegiance to parent al-Qaeda, which has nevertheless provided no support.”
This approach, he said, has “unified their goals in the region and consolidated ties between them.”
Al-Qaeda began its localised strategy after the September 11th attacks, said Mauritanian analyst and filmmaker Zein Al Abidin, who directed a movie on international terrorism, “My Friend Who Disappeared “. After the US attacked the strongholds of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and tracked the members down all over the world, the group had to “build a new tactic that turned it from a central organisation to several sub-organisations in the Arab Maghreb, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries”, he said.
“This was accompanied by a change of targets, as they no longer focused on American targets as much as they did on Muslim countries themselves,” the director added. “However, this strategy has helped tarnish al-Qaeda’s reputation and raised the Muslim public opinion against it. This per se is a victory for the United States.”
Every year, “Al-Qaeda members celebrate the anniversary of that horrible act committed in 2001 against the United States, in which thousands of innocent souls were killed in New York and Washington, and which caused major harms to Muslims everywhere in the world,” Mohammed Lamine Ould Ibrahim, an expert on Islamic movements, told Magharebia.
This anniversary is different, he said.
The terrorist network was “dealt severe blows at its central nervous system” with the killing of founder Osama bin Laden and the arrests of many senior leaders, including Younis Al Mauritani. “These blows have undermined the power of that organisation in many countries of the world.”
Al-Qaeda “is now mainly focused in the Arab Maghreb and Sahel countries,” Ould Ibrahim said.