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Meet the Ruthless New Islamist Group Terrorizing Nigeria

Ansaru's murder of seven hostages over the weekend shows why it could become the most powerful jihadist group in the region.

Author: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies
March 11, 2013
Atlantic Monthly


Through its murder of seven European and Middle Eastern hostages over the weekend in northern Nigeria, Ansaru has trumped Boko Haram through the propaganda of horror, at least for the time being. Ansaru also probably holds the French family of seven kidnapped in Cameroon last month, with the potential of more horror to come. Those kidnappers have made no public ransom demands; instead they are demanding that the Abuja government release Islamist prisoners, a demand that will be all but impossible for Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan's government to meet. Ansaru has become a direct threat to Westerners working in northern Nigeria in a way Boko Haram in the past was not. There is not much Western-funded economic activity left in northern Nigeria, but what there is will likely diminish. Foreign companies working on infrastructure projects are likely to pull back. The same is true of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on development and other projects.

The Abuja government has labeled the general insurgency in northern Nigeria as "Boko Haram" -- not just the followers of the movement's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, whom Nigerian police killed in 2009. Its base has been in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, on the edge of the Sahara. Its leadership is associated with the Kanuri ethnic group. It is now led by Abubakar Shekau. He is a shadowy figure who communicates mostly through videos and whose location is unknown. Violence associated with his part of the insurgency has been almost entirely directed against agencies of the Abuja government, especially the police and the military, and Muslims who are seen as having sold out to the Jonathan administration. Over the past year, attacks on Christians have also increased, though it is usually unclear what group has actually carried them out.

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