Terrorism analysts are concerned that information sharing between Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram and Somali group al-Shabaab will mean a new, deadlier wave of violence.
Consultancy Africa Intelligence and TheIntelligenceCommunity.com analyst Maha Hamdan says the connection will further enhance Boko Haram’s increasingly sophisticated operations and add incentives to al-Shabaab.
“The effectiveness of its operations and capabilities to operate and hit targets in a country duped as one of Africa’s security power houses is a security nightmare for anti-terrorism experts,” Hamdan said. “While many scholars share a view of the organization as limited to only local confines, such information trading will help both to expand operations.”
She added, “With the emergence of the African continent as a growing pawn for Islamic extremism and radicalism, the linkages and cooperation of these groups cannot be underestimated. Boko Haram and al-Shabaab have quickly evolved, and have the intention of developing the capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.”
Analyst Hussein Solomon, a University of the Free State political science professor and research associate at the Israeli think tank Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa, added that the recent report documents an intensified relationship.
“This (information sharing) accounts for the increasing sophistication of Boko Haram in the past two years from using poisoned arrows from bows to the use of IEDs,” Solomon said.
Hamdan added that the cooperation will give both groups power to actually change the direction of politics in Africa.
“So trading tactics between Boko Haram and al-Shabaab is an effective tool that fills the (information) gap and enables them to maintain a capacity to shape events, keep the initiative, increase the level of ‘shock and awe’ along the time line and achieve an asymmetric edge,” he explained.
“Both are terror organizations with regional and international capabilities and look forward to be the most advanced, well-prepared, disciplined and solidly financed terror organizations in the next 50 years,” Hamdan said.
Adding to the concern, Solomon said the networking goes further than just Boko Haram and al-Shabaab.
She said the connections extend to “al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, Ansar Dine in Mali and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen-based).”
A former CIA station chief, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, confirmed that the information sharing almost guarantees an increase in both groups’ activities.
“It’s absolutely guaranteed. The Muslims all imitate success. There are no boundaries in Islam, be it geographical or tactical,” the former station chief said.
Center for Security Policy Vice President for Research and Analysis Clare Lopez said that while the information sharing has the potential to increase their ability, the motivation comes from a common source.
“Tactics exchange could certainly enhance the capabilities of both groups, but the bottom line, as both are Islamic jihad groups, they’re both going to be following essentially the same script. They’re following the Quran, the hadiths, the Sirat and Shariah, things laid out for them by Muhammad 13-plus centuries ago,” Lopez said.
Lopez explained that the common inspiration for the operations comes from a central source some jihadist groups have added to their arsenal.
“The kidnapping, ransom demands, rape and sale of captured girls, etc., they’re all straight out of pure Islamic doctrine, although the modern-day ISIS Caliphate example of how to be self-sufficient through bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping and ransom, and the capture and exploitation of oil facilities is quite recent.
“So, while some tactics involving weapons, or operating against Western forces like the French or U.S., might be 21st century, the fundamentals have been tried and true (and legitimate under Islam) for a long, long time,” Lopez said.
The former station chief zeroed-in on one common source of inspiration for all of the jihadist groups.
“Since al-Qaida was formed, global jihadists have all followed the same tactics, objectives, training, etc. Boko Haram’s original membership trained and was financed by al-Qaida, like al-Shabaab,” the former station chief said.
Along with the increased capability because of shared tactics, Hamdan said a valid concern is funding. She said the networking includes money transfers and “dummy corporations.”
“A confirmed member of Boko Haram revealed during interrogations that one of the ways through which Boko Haram funds its activities is by purchasing and sending items to its members in other locations. These items are sold at inflated prices, and the proceeds are used to finance the activities of the terrorist organization, including renting apartments and procuring improvised explosive device materials for their operations.
“In one case, a Canadian citizen of Somali origin residing in Dakar, Senegal, established a real-estate company in conjunction with a Senegalese national. An account was opened for the company at a bank in Senegal. Shortly afterward, this account received a wire transfer of approximately $106,000 from a Somali national living in the United States. A financial institution based in Dubai executed the transfer.
Hamdan explained, based on the suspicious circumstances of the transaction – including the country of origin of the funds, lack of adequate information documenting the identity of the new customer and the destination of the funds – the Senegalese bank filed a report with the Senegalese government.
“During the subsequent FIU investigation, it was revealed that the company had no legal status in Senegal and was established specifically for laundering illicit funds through the sale of imported goods. All three parties were found to be in contact with extremist groups involved in terrorist activities in East Africa, North America, Europe and in Mauritania,” she said.
“The three established a related company together with other Senegalese nationals to import used goods. Some of the goods were sold locally and the remainder exported to a third country for re-sale. The proceeds of these sales were sent to a number of terrorist groups.”
Hamdan added, “The bottom line is that trading tactics will involve better networking that will help them raise more funds.”