The lost boys of Kano

Kano collage 2

By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats

What strikes me the most on my arrival in the city of Kano, in northern Nigeria, is the number of boys roaming the streets. Here in the heartland of the Islamist insurgency that has afflicted Nigeria for the past few years, children as young as four or five spend their days weaving among the chaotic traffic and begging for food. Sent to religious boarding schools by families too poor to properly support them, they are known as almajiris.

This word is borrowed from Arabic for someone who leaves home in search of Islamic instruction, but northern Nigeria’s almajiris live a precarious existence. Some must make ideal recruits for Muslim Boko Haram militants plotting bomb attacks against their Christian compatriots.

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Boko Haram is no African al-Qaeda

Still from a Boko Haram video. Source YouTube

By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate, Transnational Threats

Earlier this year, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan described Boko Haram, the Islamist group responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in his country, as having global ambitions. A senior Nigerian military commander has put it more starkly: ‘Boko Haram is al-Qaeda’. Many US and UK politicians have called for the group to be proscribed as a terrorist group; the US Department of State recently designated leader Abubakr Shekau – and two others with ties to the group – as terrorists.

In truth, however, it is difficult to quantify the risk that Boko Haram presents outside Nigeria or to say for certain that it is on the verge of becoming an international – rather than a local – threat.

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Nigeria’s emergency response to growing violence

Nigerian soldiers. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication (By Specialist 1st Class Michael Larson (RELEASED)By Virginia Comolli, Research Analyst

On Christmas Day bomb attacks on two churches in the centre of Nigeria and towns in the northern state of Yobe killed 42 people and wounded several more. The group which claimed responsibility was Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic sect which has terrorised the country with attacks and killings since the early 2000s with the supposed goal of establishing sharia law.

Since 2009 Nigeria has witnessed an overall steep increase in Islamist violence that has spread from the northern states and threatened the capital Abuja and other areas in the country’s central region, known as the Middle Belt. Boko Haram has become the most high profile of these Islamist groups- causing over 450 casualties in 2011.

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