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Nigeria's Boko Haram attacks are misunderstood as regional Islamist threat

Concern is growing that the Boko Haram militant group in Nigeria is linked to Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab as part of a coordinated Islamist terrorist threat in Africa. But most often, the reasons for the group's attacks are local.

Image

Imam Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, is shown in this image taken from video posted by Boko Haram sympathizers. The video was made available on Jan. 10. (The Associated Press cannot independently verify the authenticity of this material.)

AP photo

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The recent spate of brutal attacks in Nigeria by Boko Haram, a local terrorist group professing allegiance to Al Qaeda, has drawn attention to West Africa as the next regional battleground against violent global jihad.

But the operative word here is local, not regional – despite such worries in parts of Africa and the West.

This week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon shared a report with Nigeria’s foreign minister that raised “growing concern in the region” about possible links between Boko Haram, based in Nigeria’s Muslim north, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM.

Senior US officials, too, are worried about such a connection, as well as links to Al Shabaab, in Somalia. As if to verify such concerns, Nigeria has closed its borders to prevent entry by outside Islamist militants.

But in Nigeria, no less than in Pakistan, a fanatical ideology often cloaks far more local economic and tribal rivalries. This deep rooting in very local political contexts and economic ambitions actually hampers the terrorists’ efforts at forging pan-African jihad.

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