Latest Attacks in Nigeria Show Boko Haram's Limitations

3 MINS READApr 26, 2012 | 22:11 GMT
The wreckage from an April 26 bomb explosion outside the premises of ThisDay Newspapers in Abuja

Two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) exploded April 26 in the offices of several Nigerian news agencies located in Abuja and Kaduna. The first explosion took place around 11:30 a.m. when a suicide bomber reportedly drove a vehicle into the main compound of a This Day newspaper office in Abuja, killing at least three people. The second explosion took place near a compound in Kaduna that houses offices of The Sun, The Moment and This Day newspapers, killing several bystanders. The combined casualty estimates for the attacks reach as high as 37 dead and 100 injured. Although militant Islamist group Boko Haram has not claimed credit for the attacks, no other group in Nigeria has demonstrated the ability to deploy VBIEDs with suicide bombers.

These incidents, in addition to an April 24 soft target attack in Jos, suggest that Boko Haram is still capable of using its network to conduct attacks beyond its core in Nigeria's northeastern Borno state. They also show that Boko Haram members retain the capability of constructing and employing successful VBIEDs in their operations. However, the attackers' focus on relatively soft targets suggests that they were most likely unable to follow through with previous threats against harder targets with increased security measures in place.

On April 12, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau posted a video on YouTube in which he threatened to bring down Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's government within three months. Jonathan's administration is in the midst of a heavy crackdown on Boko Haram in response to deadly attacks in Kano on Jan. 20 and attacks in several states against churches Dec. 25, 2011. On April 17, the U.S. Embassy released a warning that Boko Haram could be planning an attack in Abuja on hotels frequented by foreigners. In response, many of the city's major hotels increased security measures. That the April 26 targets were newspaper offices suggests that, despite its threats to retaliate against the government, the group was unable to penetrate the security at these hotels or at government facilities.

Boko Haram has attacked hard targets and government facilities in Abuja with VBIEDs before, such as its attack on the city's police headquarters June 16, 2011, and its attack on a U.N. building Aug. 26, 2011. However, the April 26 attacks did not require a high level of sophistication. In the Abuja attack, the suicide bomber was able to drive through the compound's gate and penetrate the office — one report indicates that the guards may have even opened the gate for him. In Kaduna, a large crowd of bystanders reportedly stopped the driver in a market near the targets before he could enter the compound. Some reports say the attacker was dragged from or left the car before he detonated the VBIED and is currently being held by authorities. This outcome indicates poor training and preparation on the part of the operatives.

Boko Haram has threatened to strike media outlets before, accusing them of pro-government bias and exaggerated or falsified reporting, and newspaper offices are logistically easier to infiltrate than other, more preferable targets that are beyond the group's capabilities. Large attacks on the media also guarantee the group a great deal of press coverage, adding to the incentive of targeting the offices rather than hotels or government buildings.

Stratfor has been monitoring the Boko Haram network closely since the June 16, 2011, and Aug. 26, 2011, attacks in Abuja, which demonstrated a leap in the group's operational abilities because of the operatives' use of VBIEDs. A sustained level of violence will continue in Boko Haram's core in Nigeria's northeast, with occasional operations beyond, like the Abuja and Kaduna attacks. However, that is as far outside of the group's traditional area of operations as they will be able to go. Boko Haram has not yet mastered the skills to consistently attack hardened targets and has given no indication that it is becoming a transnational threat.

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