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Mali Crisis Shines Light On Nigeria's Boko Haram Insurgency

Mali's struggle against Islamists now being targeted by French and African forces has raised fresh questions over an insurgency in nearby Nigeria and ties between extremists in both countries.
Nigeria plans to send some 900 troops to Mali as well as command the African force being deployed there despite also dealing with violence back home by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.

While the Islamist advance in Mali has sparked international fears that it could become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda-linked militants and criminal gangs, many observers caution that Nigeria's situation is vastly different.

Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer has battled Boko Haram in its current form since 2010, but little is known about the group, its structure and leadership, and its stated aims have repeatedly shifted.

The Nigerian insurgents are seen as having a domestic focus, targeting symbols of authority and Christians with bombings and shootings. They have not seized territory in the way Islamist militants have in Mali, taking over the north of that country in the chaos following a coup last March.

Boko Haram is also thought to include various factions in addition to imitators and criminal gangs that carry out violence under the guise of the group. There have also long been suspicions that certain elements of the group have political links.

However, the Boko Haram threat has been evolving and the leader of its presumed main faction, Abubakar Shekau, has recently expressed sympathy with jihadist groups globally.

There are also claims that one or more splinter groups have carried out kidnappings of foreigners from France, Italy, Britain and Germany in northern Nigeria, a tactic regularly used by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Concerns have been raised about signs of growing links between African extremist groups.

"We have seen clear indications of collaboration amongst the organisations," General Carter Ham, head of US Africa Command, said recently
"In one instance ... we believe and have seen reports that Boko Haram is receiving financial support, probably training, probably some explosives, from Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, and in a relationship that goes both ways."

What level of cooperation may or may not exist has been intensely debated, and a number of analysts say there are simply no clear answers.

Some Boko Haram members are believed to have previously gone to northern Mali to train with the Al-Qaeda branch in the Maghreb, but it is not clear if closer ties have developed.

There have also been claims of Boko Haram fighters in northern Mali in recent months, but whether they are indeed Boko Haram members, or mercenaries or something else entirely is difficult to determine.

Africans who had been living or fighting in Libya under Moamer Kadhafi have found their way to northern Mali, some analysts say. Illegal weapons have also travelled the same route.

"Black Africans who were working in Libya, moved out of Libya.... One can imagine that being part of an armed group is an economic opportunity," said Gilles Yabi, West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.

Still, the nebulous nature of Boko Haram and its unclear membership certainly leave open the possibility that members have joined the fight in Mali.

"I wouldn't be surprised if some of the more extreme Boko Haram members just take up arms (in Mali)," said Virginia Comolli of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

The United States has labelled three Nigerian extremists as "global terrorists", but has so far declined to give the label to Boko Haram as a whole, citing its domestic focus and unclear nature, among other reasons.

Diplomats, analysts and many others have said the deep poverty and hopelessness in northern Nigeria has helped feed the Boko Haram insurgency, which has involved suicide bombings, including at UN headquarters in the capital Abuja.

With the Mali crisis intensifying, some now worry that if claims of Boko Haram members fighting there are true, it could lead to further bad news for Nigeria.

"Once they go back to Nigeria, they could bring with them this new viewpoint," said Comolli.
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  1. Any Africa government that has the security and wellbeing’s of its citizens at heart should be discoursing how to fight against the growing influence of terrorism and corruptions and not debating homosexuality that does no harm to anyone as religious fundamentalists would try to make us believe.

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