In the wake of the botched attempt to free two construction foreign Engineers in Sokoto State, the chief suspects Boko Haram have come out with a disclaimer saying “we didn’t do it”, so who did it? Journalist Alkasim Abdulkadir tries to get to the root of the tragedy.
Boko Haram’s violent insurgency since 2009 against the Nigerian State has left more than 1000 people dead according to an AP count. Earlier this year it carried out its deadliest attack in the city of Kano on police formations across the municipal; the day after, NEMA and Red Cross officials picked scores of dead bodies from the street with accounts of casualties raging from 160 to 215 depending on who was giving the figures. However, on the 8th of March 2012 the killing Chris Mcmanus and Franco Laminora who had been held hostage since May 2011 has ensured that Nigeria is once more caught in the eye of a diplomatic storm.
A timeline of their ordeal shows that in early August of 2011, a minute long video was sent to a French news agency in Lagos, the clip showed them -blindfolded, kneeling before armed men. In the film, Mr McManus asked the British Government “to meet the demands of al-Qaeda”, but, significantly, there was no demand for money. In December, a Nigerian group calling itself “al Qaeda in the land beyond the Sahil” announced that it had captured McManus, according to the Press Association in Britain. While Boko Haram’s main motivation still remains the Islamisation of Nigeria, AQIM’s differs based on location and contexts –but always leads back to al Qaeda
It is for the string of events that points to the hand of al Qaeda in the Maghreb in the killing of the hostages. It was not surprising therefore that a spokesman for the sect in what I term a grave irony, claiming to be Abul Qaqa, in a telephone interview with reporters in Maiduguri said: “We have always claimed responsibilities for the operations we undertake, but we are not responsible for the killing of the said foreigners in Sokoto on Thursday.” Though Boko Haram claims that it has established links to al Qaeda, there’s evidence to show that the alliance is more tilted towards the horn of Africa and the mainstream al Qaeda than the splinter group that operates in North and West Africa. This also means that “al Qaeda in the land beyond the Sahel” which kidnapped the duo is not an affiliate of Boko Haram but rather an outer cell of al Qaeda in the Maghreb. Maghreb and Sahel are all related entities by geography.
The modus operandi of kidnapping and employing ideological demands as bargaining chips by AQIM is well documented in West Africa. In 2009 the New York Times wrote that “AQIM has become much stronger in Algeria and Mauritania, and the killing of the British hostage and the American is a message they are not only concentrating on Maghreb issues, they are now part of the global jihad,” said a senior French counterterrorism official, using an acronym for the group and speaking anonymously because he was discussing intelligence reports. The latest spate of violence began in late May, when the Qaeda group killed a Briton, Edwin Dyer, a day after its second deadline for meeting its demands expired. He was kidnapped on Jan. 22 along with a Swiss citizen and two other tourists in Niger and was held in Mali.
AQIM continues to kidnap Westerners and hold them for ransom in return for the release of imprisoned Islamic militants. In February 2008, the group kidnapped two Austrian tourists who were holidaying in Tunisia. They were held hostage for eight months in a remote area of Mali’s Sahara desert before being released unharmed. In December 2008, AQIM kidnapped two Canadian diplomats who had been travelling in Niger as part of a United Nations Mission. The group released the diplomats unharmed in April 2009 along with two of a group of four European hostages who had been kidnapped in January. One of the remaining two European hostages, a British national, was reportedly executed in June 2009. Also, in late June 2009, AQIM took responsibility for the killing of an American aid worker in Mauritania’s capital city of Nouakchott. All these bear similar features to the circumstances that claimed the lives McManus and Lamolinara.
Do we know who they are? AQIM originated as an armed Islamist resistance movement to the secular Algerian government. They have since expanded their network stretching across the length of West Africa and have forged alliances with other similar ideological groups like al Qaeda in the Sahel, who sometimes sell their hostages to the bigger terrorist cells.
The clear and present danger here is that Nigeria is caught in the middle of these vicious webs of insurgencies.