Nigeria: January 5, 2004



Niger arrested seven suspected Islamic militants on charges of complicity in an uprising in neighboring Nigeria and has offered to extradite them. Meanwhile, the Yobe State governor claims that other suspects have been rounded up and a Nigeria police spokesman noted that they had brought the remote northeast region under control. Whether merely wishful thinking or actual success, the government's proclamations can't erase the potential problem of Islamic radicals and if left to fester, this group (and others) could severely affect Nigeria's economy and American oil supplies. 

Contrary to earlier reports that it was Nigeria's old "Maitatsine" group, this newer group has been described as university students from Maiduguri, the capital of neighboring Borno state. Their Al Sunna Wal Jamma ("Followers of the Prophet") sect has been active for the past two years in northeastern Nigeria, preaching strict adherence to Islamic Shari'ah law and professing admiration for the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. After seizing guns and ammunition from police posts near the northern border with Niger, they raised flags with "Afghanistan" written on them at a nearby primary school. 

They then passed out flyers printed with their goals: to carve out the areas of Kanamma, Yunusari and Toshiya from Nigeria and create an Islamic state, to place these areas under the leadership of Mullah Umar (the fugitive former leader of the Taliban movement), to kill any 'unbeliever in uniform' (presumably policemen and soldiers) and to call on the Muslims in the country to rise up for Jihad (Holy War) to defend Islam and establish justice.

The local press also reported that they are called "Hijrah", which means 'migration' and refers to the Prophet's migration from Mecca to Medinah. Despite their ability to cause a week-long panic, the military potential of these new group is pretty weak. They obviously lack a cache of arms and munitions, as well as any external source.
Unlike the Taliban, these Nigerian radicals don't have decades of combat experience nor as children of Nigeria's privileged, were they raised in a gun culture like Afghanistan's. Furthermore, the only casualties they have inflicted have been amongst Nigerian police caught by surprise. 

While the Nigerian military has it's share of drawbacks, it currently remains in a position of strength and is moving with determination. An armored battalion of 500 just entered the area, reinforcing elements of the 21st Armored Brigade, the Recon Battalion and police units already searching for these former students.

So what set off these supposedly peaceful fundamentalists? No one gave it a second thought several months ago, when the Hijrah moved out into a rural part of Yobe State to "live in peace and engage in studies and farming," so as to alleviate themselves from the 'burden' of interacting with a 'sinful' Nigerian society. 

Prior to last week's attack, the group had been approached at their bush commune by a committee made up of a number of religious scholars (and encouraged by the local government) to persuade the fundamentalists to leave the area. The public had apparently been grumbling, a predictable reaction by poor farmers to wealthy new neighbors. The Hijrah had initially agreed to disperse but then made an about-turn and attacked the local police post. 

Nigeria's population of 126 million is roughly split evenly between Muslims and Christians. Discontent has increased since a dozen northern states began to adopt strict Shari'ah law, since radical Muslim groups have accused the state governments of less-than-zealous implementation of these laws.

Nigeria has been plagued by heretical Muslim sects before. The Maitatsine movement of about 3,000 believers, led by Alhajji Muhammadu Marwa (aka Maitatsine), precipitated an eleven-day emergency in late December 1980 that saw over 4,000 deaths and 1,000 arrests, including 224 foreigners. The Kano riots were suppressed by the army and the air force, after the police failed to restore order. - Adam Geibel


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