Tuesday, December 29, 2009

nigerian connection

Guardian | The failed plane bomb attack has also put the spotlight on northern Nigeria, a region US counter-terrorism officials have long eyed with concern. The overwhelmingly Muslim region is increasingly radicalised. A spate of anti-government attacks by an Islamic sect left hundreds dead earlier this year. Sharia law has largely replaced secular legal systems over the past decade. The Nigerian government claims to have uncovered al-Qaida cells and funding.

But the real concern has been less about recruitment by al-Qaida than of radicalised individuals able to exploit links to the west for terrorist attacks. Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab is apparently one such person.

His family encompasses the divide that has prompted an Islamist backlash against Nigeria's establishment. Abdulmuttallab's father was a minister in the corrupt, discredited western-backed governments of the past. A decade ago, Islamist politicians rode to power on a wave of anger at Nigeria's corrupt military leaders, most of whom were Muslim.

The way was led by Zamfara state where a fundamentalist governor, Ahmed Sani Yerima, was elected and made sharia law the dominant code. Abdulmuttallab's home state of Katsina has been at the centre of outcries over fundamentalism. In 2002, an Islamic court sentenced a mother to death by stoning for adultery for conceiving a child out of wedlock. The child's father was not convicted. A sharia court of appeal overturned the sentence. The same year, Katsina carried out Nigeria's first execution under sharia law.

The new radicalism spawned groups such as Boko Haram, which also called itself the Taliban. It was led by Mohammed Yusuf who was facing charges of receiving money from al-Qaida when Boko Haram launched attacks on police stations across northern Nigeria in July that left 700 people dead in four cities - mostly the militant attackers. Yusuf was shot dead by the police after they surrounded his house. Despite the claims of an al-Qaeda connection, Boko Haram's militancy was primarily directed against weak, long discredited Nigerian government. Millions of impoverished, devout, angry young Nigerian millions share that anger. The concern of western counter terrorism officials is that that anger moves beyond Nigeria's borders.