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US must seek conservative Muslims as allies in fight against Boko Haram terror

Boko Haram, the north Nigerian extremist group, has recently escalated its terror campaign with a string of deadly strikes against government and civilian targets. To combat the rising threat, the West must embrace conservative Muslims in the region as potential allies.

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Imam Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Nigeria-based radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, appears in this file image taken from video posted by Boko Haram sympathizers made available in January. Op-ed contributor Michael Gubser worries the US will mistakenly associate Islamic conservatives in the region with Boko Haram. He says that 'most Nigerian Muslims reject' Boko Haram's violence.

AP/File

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Over the past few months, Boko Haram, the north Nigerian extremist organization whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” has escalated its three-year terror campaign with a string of audacious, deadly strikes against both government affiliates and civilians. Most dramatic were late January’s bombings in the north Nigerian city of Kano, which killed nearly 200 people. As Boko Haram promises further attacks, the violence shows no sign of abating.

The group has drawn international concern – including American military, diplomatic, and development attention under the multi-agency Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative – focused on a remote and little-known region in western Africa, where not only Boko Haram but also Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) prey on some of the world’s poorest peoples.

To combat the rising threat, the West must embrace as potential allies the conservative Muslims who dominate this turbulent region. But there is a real danger that Western analysts will mistakenly identify north Nigeria’s conservative Islam with Boko Haram’s violent ideology, instead of seeing the extremists for who they are: violent groups espousing fringe views that most Nigerian Muslims reject.

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