The Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram has been made all the more dangerous by weapons it acquired during the looting of Libyan reserves after the U.S.-backed NATO campaign that deposed Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.
Shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles now in Boko Haram’s possession are a potential threat to commercial airliners in West Africa, dramatically increasing the jihadist group’s destructive impact.
The Nigeria-based Boko Haram group has been the center of worldwide headlines after it abducted at least 276 girls last month from the northeastern town of Chibok, which is known to have a sizeable Christian community.
Yesterday, the group released a video purporting to show the missing girls and claiming they had converted to Islam. In the 17-minute video, Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, warned he would not free the schoolgirls until all Boko Haram prisoners are released from jails.
Regarding the conversion of the girls, Shekau stated: “”These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with … we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims.”
Founded in 2009, Boko Haram’s profile as a terrorist group has risen rapidly.
Its rise may have been accelerated by weaponry it acquired as a consequence of NATO and the Obama administration’s efforts in Gaddafi’s ouster.
The largest terrorist looting of Man-Portable-Air-Defense-Systems, or MANPADS, took place immediately after the military campaign against the Gadhafi regime, when the U.S.-NATO alliance failed to secure the weapons.
Gadhafi had hoarded Africa’s biggest known reserve of MANPADS. His stock was said to number between 15,000 and 20,000. Many of the missiles were stolen by militias fighting in Libya, including those backed by the U.S. in their anti-Gadhafi efforts.
In January 2012, the United Nations Security Council first raised the alarm about Boko Haram acquiring weapons looted in Libya.
A 2013 House report documented Boko Haram’s efforts to purchase weapons from the groups that looted Gadhafi’s reserves. It stated the group “has acquired, or will acquire, SA-7 and SA-24 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.”
The House document noted the SA-7 is effective up to 4,600 feet. While most commercial aircraft cruise at about 30,000 feet, the missile could down airliners during takeoff and landing.
“Nothing the organization has done so far gives the impression that they would restrain themselves from aiming for such a target if given the opportunity,” the report warned of Boko Haram.
The 39-page report said Boko Haram’s growing collaboration with al-Qaida, including the Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, franchise, has made the African group a threat to U.S. interests abroad as well as a potential danger to the U.S. homeland.
The January 2012 U.N. report also noted Boko Haram was working with AQIM, with seven of its members arrested traveling through the Niger to Mali “in possession of documentation on manufacturing of explosives, propaganda leaflets and names and contact details of members of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb they were allegedly planning to meet.”
In May 2012, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported two former CIA officers had been raising the alarm within the intelligence community about missiles and weapons proliferated from Libya and being acquired by Boko Haram.
In an email, the officers wrote: “The missiles and munitions that have been streaming out of Libya since the fall of 2011 have made their way to Agadez in Niger and points west … Boko Haram has taken possession of some of the refurbished missiles.”
With research by Joshua Klein.