A captured member of the Islamist group said that fighters from al-Qaeda affiliates are joining its movement.
Extremists from three neighboring countries are fighting in Nigeria's northeastern Islamic uprising, according to an alleged captured extremist whose account reinforces fears that one of Africa's most powerful Islamic militant groups is growing closer to al-Qaida affiliates and that radical movements are spilling across national boundaries.
"We do have members from Chad, Niger and Cameroon who actively participate in most of our attacks," said a young man presented to journalists Friday night by Nigeria's military as a captured fighter of the Boko Haram terrorist network.
The claim of foreign fighters indicates the growing influence of Boko Haram, which started out as a machete-wielding gang and that now wages war with armored cars, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices in its mission to force all of Nigeria — Africa's largest oil producer and a country of 160 million that has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims — to become an Islamic state.
Boko Haram poses the biggest security threat in years to the cohesion of Nigeria, already riven by sectarian, tribal and regional divisions that often explode into bloodletting, amid power struggles ahead of elections in 2015 that likely will be contested by the current president, a fundamentalist Christian.
A harsh military crackdown in three northeastern states covering one-sixth of the country since mid-May has forced Boko Haram out of major cities and towns, but the security forces appear unable to prevent regular extremist attacks on soft targets like school pupils in which hundreds have been killed in recent months.
President Goodluck Jonathan's government, which is struggling to control the Islamic rebellion, for the first time presented an alleged Boko Haram fighter, a 22-year-old walking on crutches because of a bullet wound suffered when he was captured in a recent attack.