from Africa in Transition

Who Is Responsible For The Upsurge in Terrorism in Kano, Nigeria?

December 11, 2014

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Since mid-November there has been a flurry of terrorist attacks in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city, the metropolis of the northern half of the country, and an ancient center of Islamic culture.

Suicide bombers have carried out attacks on a gas station and a military facility. Casualties in each episode appear to have been about half a dozen. On November 28, there was a major attack on the Central Mosque in Kano, immediately adjacent to the Emir of Kano’s palace. Casualties were much higher, perhaps approaching two hundred, according to the Transition Monitoring Group, a highly respected Nigerian democracy advocacy group that accuses the government of minimizing the number of victims. The mosque attack has been condemned by prominent personalities ranging from Pope Francis to the Sultan of Sokoto, the most senior Islamic traditional ruler in Nigeria, to President Goodluck Jonathan. On December 10, two female suicide bombers killed at least six people (including themselves) at a market.

What group is responsible for the upsurge of terrorism in Kano? The conventional answer is ‘Boko Haram,’ a highly diffuse, radical Islamist jihadist group that aims to destroy the secular Nigerian state. Boko Haram regularly claims responsibility for its attacks, as was the case with the Chibok kidnapping. It has not claimed responsibility for the Central Mosque attack or any other attacks in Kano.

Another alternative might be the radical splinter group, Ansaru. With connections to jihadist groups outside of Nigeria, it may have introduced the use of suicide bombers, now a feature of Kano terrorism. However, following the Central Mosque attack, it apparently issued a statement of condolence for the victims, in effect condemning the attack. This is consistent with Ansaru’s previous criticism of Boko Haram for “killing too many innocent Muslims.” It also indicates that the perpetrator of the Central Mosque killings, at least, was not Ansaru.

If not Boko Haram or Ansaru, then who? The grass-roots insurrection in northern Nigeria appears ever more decentralized. It cannot be ruled out that there has emerged in Kano a local jihadist group operating independently of Boko Haram or Ansaru. I find this the most credible, if unproven, hypothesis. However, there is little hard evidence. Some residents of Kano suggest that the perpetrators are not necessarily jihadis at all, but rather “agents provocateurs” with a hazy origin and agenda but likely somehow connected to the upcoming national elections on February 14, 2015.