Cite danger of expanding terrorist ties across Africa’s Sahel, flooded by Libyan arms
Washington, DC (Nov. 30)—At a hearing today of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, experts warned that the Nigeria-based militant group, Boko Haram, is posing an emerging threat to US interests and the US homeland. The panel also heard compelling evidence that Boko Haram has established links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is expanding a broad network of terrorist ties to militant groups across Africa’s Sahel, including Somalia-based al-Shabaab, al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and members of the separatist Polisario Front based in Algeria.
“The US intelligence community has underestimated the threat potential of terrorist organizations in the recent past,” said a bipartisan report released at the hearing: Boko Haram – Emerging Threat to the US Homeland. “Boko Haram’s attacks are occurring at their greatest frequency since the sect emerged from hiding in 2010.” The report warns, “AQIM is making a focused attempt to extend its area of operations and sphere of influence into the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa.” An alliance between Boko Haram, AQIM, and other militant groups, the report concludes, could “prove costly for the stability of Africa, the Sahel, and American interests.”
The hearing was convened by Representative Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, who also authored the bipartisan report.
The report cites a recent warning by US General/AFRICOM head Carter Ham that a potential alliance of AQIM with Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and other militant groups in the region “would be a very, very dangerous outcome” for the US. Recent news of Libyan arms smuggled to the Sahel and evidence of AQIM “outsourcing” abductions and other terrorist acts to Polisario members in Algeria add urgency to the threat.
Testifying at the panel, Peter Pham, Director, Ansari Africa Center, Atlantic Council, said “the fact that Boko Haram in recent months has been able to simultaneously expand its operations beyond its base in northern Nigeria and dramatically upgrade its tactical capabilities ought to be a wake-up call to both the Nigerian government and the international community.” Of reported Boko Haram-AQIM links, Pham said “AQIM has a history of contracting out kidnappings to mercenary groups and disaffected groups in the region, including Polisario fighters.” He cited Boko Haram, AQIM, al-Shabaab, and the Polisario as the most problematic militant groups in the region.
Lauren Ploch, Specialist in African Affairs, at the Congressional Research Service told the panel that “Boko Haram or AQIM may try to acquire weapons systems from former Libyan stockpiles, including surface-to-air missiles, which some reports indicate may be flowing south through Niger” and into Nigeria. She noted that Nigeria is one of only a few West African countries with direct flights by US airlines to and from the US.
In a letter submitted to the Committee for the hearing, Robert Holley, Executive Director, Moroccan American Center for Policy, cited serious concerns “about the growing ties between AQIM and the refugee camps administered by the Polisario Front near Tindouf, Algeria,” which “have become an obvious recruiting ground for AQIM and their allies like Boko Haram.” He noted that AQIM’s recent kidnapping of Western aid workers from the Polisario-run camps, reportedly with Polisario insider help, mirrors AQIM’s hiring of Polisario veterans to kidnap Spanish nationals in 2009, which is documented by Mauritania court records.
** To view a video playback of the hearing, go to: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-hearing-boko-haram-emerging-threat-us-homeland
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