Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abu Musab Abd al-Wadoud said his group will support Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram with weapons in an effort to strengthen Muslims in Nigeria and provide al Qaeda with strategic depth in Africa. Al-Wadoud has issued similar statements before, with few quantifiable results. Issuing statements claiming an alliance is easier than actually creating a meaningful accord, and several factors complicate AQIM's intent to move into Nigeria.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abu Musab Abd al-Wadoud told Al Jazeera on June 14 that his group has been talking to Nigerian Islamist movement Boko Haram and intends to supply it with weapons to "defend Muslims in Nigeria and stop the advance of a minority of Crusaders." He said al Qaeda has an interest in sub-Saharan Africa for "its strategic depth that would give it a bigger scope for maneuvers." While AQIM is primarily based in Algeria, focusing its attacks on security forces around the capital, Algiers, al-Wadoud has issued previous statements similarly promoting the expansion of al Qaeda in West Africa. After the August 2008 coup in Mauritania, the AQIM leader issued a call to arms that largely fell flat. Mauritania has certainly seen its share of violence, including the murder of an American teacher in Nouakchott in June 2009 and an amateurish bombing of the French Embassy in August 2009, but overall, al Qaeda activity in Mauritania has been low despite AQIM's interest there. Nigeria has seen Islamist threats, but transnational jihadists have not gained a large foothold in the country. Nigerian citizen Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, arrested in December 2009 in an attempt to detonate an incendiary device on a passenger jet, was linked to Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has only indirect links to AQIM. U.S. and other foreign diplomatic missions in Nigeria also have periodically released information on threats against embassies from transnational jihadists. In June 2005, the U.S. and British embassies in Abuja closed in response to a jihadist threat, and in March 2010, the U.S. Embassy raised its alert level in response to threats against U.S. citizens. These warnings indicate that there is jihadist activity in Nigeria, but such activity has yet to produce a successful attack in the country. (click here to enlarge image) Furthermore, Boko Haram itself is struggling to survive. In the summer of 2009, the group, which also goes by the name "Taliban," although it has no links to the Taliban movement in southwest Asia, attempted to enact Shariah in northeast Nigeria, instigating sectarian violence that led to 700 deaths. The subsequent Nigerian military response ultimately led to the capture and death of Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf. Dozens of Boko Haram members were arrested in the weeks following Yusuf's death, and the violence was quickly subdued. Although sectarian violence continues sporadically in northern Nigeria, those clashes are a separate and ongoing issue of sectarian conflict unconnected to the Boko Haram clashes. While AQIM certainly is active in Niger and Mali, just across the Nigerian border from Boko Haram's main base of operations, this activity was largely linked to Tuareg tribes in the region. Tribesmen abduct foreigners in northern Niger and trade and send them to AQIM, which holds them for ransom or as bargaining chips in negotiations with the Algerian government over the release of arrested AQIM members. There is no known connection between Tuaregs and Boko Haram, and, additionally, there is no Tuareg presence in northeastern Nigeria that could enable AQIM to try to replicate what they are doing elsewhere in West Africa. Boko Haram is also not known for engaging in kidnap-for-ransom activity and does not share the same objectives as AQIM or the Tuareg tribesmen. Making the jump from Tuareg tribes to Boko Haram would not be a natural one for AQIM and, even if they did manage to join forces, it is not exactly clear what Boko Haram could do considering its weakened capability since the 2009 government crackdown. Thus, al-Wadoud's June 14 statement is more likely wishful thinking and rhetoric than an actual threat.