Merchant of Death
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Nigeria and al Qaeda
A new wave of radical Islamist attacks in Nigeria point to the spread of wahhabist theology in the region and the significant difficulties facing West Africa's perennial hot spot.

As I have noted earlier, in 2003 Osama bin Laden specifically mentioned Nigeria as a target for the spread of al Qaeda, and shortly thereafter there were a series of smaller scale attacks. But the actions of the "Nigeria Taliban" were widely dismissed as simply jihadist "wannabes" that posed no threat.

The truth is that there is a large and radicalized Muslim population in northern Nigeria, where 12 of the states (out of 36 in all) have imposed Sharia law. The radicalization is mixed with a deep sense of historic grievance against the south and the central government, as well as antagonism toward the sizable Christian minority. Not all Muslim in the north are radicalized, nor are all seeking a violent change in the state system.

But those in the lead of the new, self-proclaimed Taliban, are, and want to push sharia law to a more extreme form. As one of the leaders of the current violence states:

"Democracy and the current system of education must be changed otherwise this war that is yet to start would continue for long."

The Islamist fighters are thought to belong to a group known as Boko Haram, which means "western education is sin".

The group wants Western-based education banned and wants to establish sharia law across Nigeria, a country of 150 million people that is evenly split between Muslims and Christians.

They appear to be the direct descendants of the previously-active Nigerian Taliban that emerged in 2003. For a more comprehensive look at that movement, see Dr. J Peter Pham's piece from that time. There he described the role of Sudan in allegedly financing the radicals, and other interesting details.

On January 16, Media Trust Ltd., was arraigned before the High Court in the capital of Abuja, accused of three counts of terrorism. The director, a Muslim cleric (or mallam) by the name of Mohammed Bello Ilyas Damagun, who was described by prosecutors as belonging to a group dubbed the "Nigerian Taliban," was charged with receiving funds from al-Qaeda, sending recruits abroad for training, and aiding terrorist activities within Nigeria.

According to prosecutor Abdullahi Mikailu, Mallam Damagun, whose business interests publish the Daily Trust, Weekly Trust, Sunday Trust, and Aminiya newspapers, received $300,000 from al-Qaeda accounts in Sudan which were transferred to his account (number 2106795, to be specific) at Habibsons Bank on St. James Street in London "with the intent that said money shall be used in the execution of acts of terrorism."

The new outbreak of violence is notable for the strength of the jihadists and the number of them killed on a series of attacks on police and military outposts. The outbreak of violence comes just as the central government is striving to bring some peace to the better known (and so far unrelated conflict) in the southern, oil producing region Nigeria. Nigeria supplies more than 12 percent of th

There, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) as agreed, after months of fighting and hostage taking that has driven down Nigeria's oil production by more than 500,000 barrels a day, to a ceasefire. It looked like the violence besieging the weak and corrupt central government could be easing.

But given bin Laden's express interest in Nigeria, the growth of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magrheb and ethnic tensions that play into the tensions, it is unlikely the Nigerian Taliban is finished. The Nigerians security forces are unlikely to not massively overreact against the civilian population, leading to more recruits for the radicals. The radicals, if they have money, will likely be able to buy weapons from the corrupt and weak military.

All this bodes ill for a nation that is not only the economic engine of West Africa, but constantly teetering on the edge of chaos and violence that would take the entire region down with it. A radical Islamist movement that can feed off of the historic economic and ethnic grievances will complicate an already complicated and hostile situation.
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