12:24 pm - Sunday November 15, 2015

Boko Haram’s terrifying regional ambitions and a kidnapped politician’s wife

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It was late Saturday or early Sunday when hundreds of militants descended upon a dust-caked Cameroon town called Kolofata. In remote communities like this, more than 700 miles from the national capital along Nigeria’s border, even the cops fret. “When night falls, we tremble,” one Northern Cameroonian policeman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, recently told Agence France Press. “We don’t sleep.”

Those fears were confirmed once more that night when nearly 200 Boko Haram assailants arrived in town. The heavily-armed men, witnesses would later tell Voice of America, shot their guns into the air as they went about their grisly business. Witnesses said they pillaged, murdered and kidnapped. In an attack that left at least three villagers dead and the region shaken, the militants captured a local mayor — who’s also a religious leader — and five members of his family. They also surrounded Cameroon’s vice prime minister’s house for nearly an hour and kidnapped his wife, disappearing with her across the Nigerian border.

“I can confirm that the home of Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali in Kolofata came under a savage attack from Boko Haram militants,” a Cameroon spokesman told Reuters in a telephone interview. “They unfortunately took away his wife.”

Though disturbing in its own right, the attack appeared neither indiscriminate nor random and underscored Boko Haram’s expanding transnational agenda. In the last several weeks, the militants have claimed a new town in Northeastern Nigeria and launched attack after attack on villages in northern Cameroon. During that time, two Cameroon shepherds have been killed. Entire villages, according to AFP, have been razed. And since Friday, Boko Haram has launched three separate attacks in Cameroon, killing at least four soldiers and spurring the Cameroon government to dispatch additional troops to the border.

While Boko Haram has long attacked on either side of the border, the recent surge in both the number and brazenness of its Cameroon operation signals Boko Haram, which began as a Nigerian problem, has become a regional one. Its growth, analysts say, shows how a combination of factors including inadequate governmental response, porous, randomly-drawn borders and a cross-national ideology can give birth to a regional terrorist movement — a phenomenon unfolding in Syria and Iraq as well.

The emergence of regionally-growing Islamic militancies — like Boko Haram and the Islamic State — could have profound repercussions if they were to work together, warns Benjamin Eveslage in an article published in Perspectives on Terrorism. “Due to the proximity of some extremist groups in this region and their similar ideology, it is feared that their collaboration would result in the ability to launch globally threatening terrorist attacks,” Eveslage wrote, referring to the fact that many of Africa’s terrorist groups fall within something called the “arc of instability.”

But Boko Haram’s attacks on Cameroon also represent something of a departure from the group’s past, marked largely by domestic assaults that have killed untold thousands. In the first six months of this year alone, Boko Haram has killed at least 2,053 civilians in nearly 100 attacks predominantly in its base of operations in Borno state, according to Human Rights Watch. “Boko Haram is effectively waging war on the people of northeastern Nigeria at a staggering human cost,” explained Corinne Dufka, Human Rights Watch’s West Africa director. “Atrocities committed as part of a widespread attack on civilians are crimes against humanity…”

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