In September this year, a suspected al-Qaida attack planned for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was uncovered by U.S. officials, while in 2009, 290 deaths were narrowly avoided when an attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day failed.
The significance of dates once again played a central role this week, as bombs rocked Christian churches across the country of Nigeria, killing some 40 people and wounding hundreds more on Christmas Day. World leaders have condemned the attacks at five churches as worshippers attended Christmas services, calling it “cowardly,” “hateful” and “senseless.” Responsibility for the bombings has already been claimed by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram, which has embarked on a campaign of violence toward Christian and Western influences in the country for almost a decade.
As with other fundamentalist groups, Boko Haram sees Western influences as corrupting the minds of Nigerian Muslims, and although the country is around 50 percent Christian, the group believes sharia law should be implemented nationwide, beyond just the Muslim-dominated northern half of the country. Sectarian violence has long been a problem for Nigeria, but the ascendancy of Boko Haram has further inflamed the troubles.
This week’s is the latest in a string of attacks by the organization which has included assassinations of political candidates, the bombing of police headquarters and the bombing earlier this year of a U.N. outpost in the capital city, Abuja. Operations have appeared to intensify since the 2009 killing of the group’s leader Mohammed Yusuf, and tactics have developed and expanded, going from small-scale shootings to the use of car bombs and suicide bombers.
The increase in prominence may also be attributed to its strengthening affiliation with other groups such as al-Qaida and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Following the U.S.-led crackdown on al-Qaida in the last decade, many of its members have settled in North Africa (the branch known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb). This proximity to countries like Nigeria has increased relations with such groups as Boko Haram which have benefited from logistical support and other expertise from the more experienced and established al-Qaida.
There is no easy fix to the problem posed by Boko Haram. The group’s reluctance as of yet to expand operations outside of Nigeria leaves the international community with little incentive to intervene. President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed to bring to justice all perpetrators involved in the most recent attacks, yet the elusive tactics and strengthening nature of the group promise to be a continued obstacle for the Nigerian military.
Above all, Boko Haram serves as a sobering reminder that terrorism is alive and well, and that militant Islam is much more than just an American problem. As discussed in a previous column, Africa may become the future breeding ground of terrorist organizations, and the long history of involvement in African conflicts (or lack thereof) creates an entirely new challenge for the world regarding intervention.
As your Christmas celebrations wind down, spare a thought for those who were mercilessly killed for their faith in Nigeria this week, and the countless others who suffer the world over.
(Editor’s Note: Timothy Passmore is a visiting guest lecturer of political science at Lee University. His “Your World Today” column is published weekly in the Wednesday edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner).