from Africa in Transition

Upsurge in Violence in Northern Nigeria Connected to Mali?

January 23, 2013

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Wars and Conflict


High profile, violent killings have taken place in northern Nigeria at the same time as the French intervention in Mali.

On January 19, the emir of Kano barely survived an assassination attempt that wounded two of his sons, and killed four others.

On the same day, a Nigeria army spokesman said that Boko Haram killed two Nigerian soldiers being deployed to Mali, and wounded five others, with a roadside improvised explosive device (IED).

On January 21, “unknown gunmen” killed eighteen hunters selling “bush meat” at a market near Maiduguri.

January 22, “gunmen” on “motorcycles” killed five men and injured two others playing a table game in Kano.

During the same time period, the BBC, citing local sources, reports that “suspected militant Islamists” beheaded five people in Maiduguri.

And, finally, a large Nigerian newspaper, Vanguard, is reporting that the titular Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau has been wounded in a gun battle and is reportedly receiving medical attention somewhere in Mali.

There should be caution about placing these incidents in a single framework, or linking them to events in Mali or Algeria.

In most of the incidents cited above, no group has claimed responsibility. An exception is the killing of Nigerian soldiers being deployed to Mali. An Islamist group Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (JAMBS) claims responsibility. It is a Boko Haram splinter group, also referred to as Ansaru.

The bush meat hunters may be guilty of selling meat that is haram–the eating of wild animals and especially monkeys is forbidden by certain strict forms of Islam. But, buried in the newspaper account of their murder is speculation that these hunters may also have been police informants.

The card players may have been gambling; also haram.

More details are needed about the alleged beheadings, which are rare in West Africa. But, so too was suicide bombing, now carried out in the North.

As for the attempted assassination, the emir of Kano has become a controversial figure. He is a potential target from a number of different quarters.

There appears to be a grass roots, diffuse revolt in the North with many different elements, though with a shared radical Islamic paradigm. Coordinate between them should not be expected, even if outsiders label their collective activities as “Boko Haram.”