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Boko Haram Likely to Seek Closer Ties with AQIM

A reduction in funding from northern officials may lead Boko Haram to look to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for support.
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Kano, northern Nigeria, where more than 200 people were killed in recent Boko Haram attacks.

Boko Haram is a militant Salafist group that aims to overthrow the Nigerian government and establish Islamic shari'a law across the country. The group has operated under and been attributed various different names locally, including Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad, the Nigerian Taliban and the Yusufiyya sect. The divergent messages coming from the group since mid-2011 suggest that there are different factions operating under the Boko Haram banner. Some elements have closer ties with prominent northerners while others are pursuing sponsorship from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) more actively.

Boko Haram is likely receiving support from northerners (mostly Muslims) who oppose the perceived political and economic marginalisation of the north under President Jonathan, a Christian member of a southern ethnic minority from the Niger Delta. Northerners possibly aim to make Jonathan look ineffective, then offer to withdraw support for Boko Haram in exchange for concessions on key issues such as derailing the creation of a sovereign wealth fund and Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the appointment of northerners to Jonathan's cabinet, and the permanent reinstatement of the fuel subsidy.

The January 24, 2012, statement from Boko Haram that funding from northern leaders had halted indicates that President Jonathan's administration is already making concessions. An indicator of further progress in this regard would be initial negotiations on an amnesty programme for some Boko Haram cells, similar to that signed with Niger Delta militants in 2009.

Reduction of Support

The reduction in support from influential northern officials (and, as a result, local security forces) is likely to reverse Boko Haram’s growth in the past year. This is likely to oblige it to seek alternative streams of revenue. This increases the likelihood that it will engage in low-level criminality, most probably extortion and armed robbery targeting cargo in transit and commercial interests in cities. Risks will be greatest in northern states such as Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna and Kano.

Turning to AQIM

Moreover, elements within Boko Haram are likely to increasingly turn to AQIM to compensate for this loss in support. As a result, while the group will continue to target Nigerian state and security forces, it is likely to take on a more global outlook, probably influenced by al Qaeda ideology. Further, access to AQIM would likely facilitate greater access to weapons smuggling from Libya into the Sahel region.

A January 25, 2012, UN report stated Nigerian authorities had intercepted over 600kg of Semtex from Libya. Such an operational relationship would place foreign embassies, international hotels in Abuja such as the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, and also Christian sites like the National Church, at risk of large-scale attack, together with foreign individuals like NGO staff and journalists. Other 'un-Islamic' targets at higher risk would include bars, restaurants and banks.

Future Attacks

The majority of Boko Haram attacks in 2012 are likely to be concentrated in the cities in northern states, such as Borno, Kaduna, Gombe and Bauchi, as well as the federal capital Abuja. The group is unlikely to be able to access oil and gas targets in southern Nigeria undetected, given that it lacks grassroots support there. This also mitigates risks of attacks on major southern cities such as Lagos and Port Harcourt.

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