The Islamic Assault on Nigeria, Christian Persecution and the Saudi Connection

Boko Haram’s Abul Qaja also claims the group is a spiritual follower of al-Qaeda and claims they have been training and getting funding from Saudi sources. “Al-Qaeda are our elder brothers,” said Qaja. “During the lesser Hajj [August 2011], our leaders travelled to Saudi Arabia and met al-Qaeda there. We enjoy financial and technical support from them. Anything we want from them we ask them.”


By Morgan Norval | April 1, 2014


Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group Boko Haram

“Western education is a sin,” Abul Qaqa, a spokesman for Boko Haram the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group told the group Reporters Without Borders. “What does that mean to you? It is the definition of Boko Haram, the Islamist group of which I, Abul Qaqa, am the spokesman…”

Qaqa explained, “We do not beat around the bush. Our goal? The application of Sharia law throughout Nigeria. How do we go about it? Through kidnappings, bombings and suicide attacks aimed at the United Nations, churches and symbols of the federal government such as police stations.”

Boko Haram, the Hausa language term meaning “Western education is sacrilegious,” broke out in the three Muslim northeastern Nigerian states of Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa. These states lay across the Sahel a belt on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. The area is poor and receives little revenue from Nigeria’s southern oil riches. The area has among the worst health and education services in Africa. For many foreign policy experts throughout the world, this is the reason for the Boko Haram revolt.

No doubt that is a factor, but it overlooks some critical points. The attempts to improve the poor quality of education in the north has not been bolstered by Boko Haram’s attacks on schools and teachers in the area. The targeting of Christians, blowing up their churches with worshipers inside and burning down predominantly Christian villages and killing the villagers, is a strange way to attack the Nigerian government. After all, the Christians in the same area are suffering from the same neglect as the Muslims.

In addition to attacking isolated police and military outposts, Boko Haram is going out of its way to attack defenseless civilians. Their purpose is threefold: 1) undermine the Nigerian state’s claim of authority by demonstrating its inability to protect its citizens;  2) instill fear in the local population to dissuade them from supporting the central government; and, 3) ethnically cleanse all Christians from the northern part of Nigeria.

The group claims it won’t cease its efforts until it sets up its Islamic caliphate in Nigeria. The terrorist group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to expand its terrorist activity to the rest of the country and pledged to start attacking the Niger Delta region where most of Nigeria’s oil is produced. His group demonstrated their ability to operate outside of Northern Nigeria when it conducted an August 2011 suicide car bombing attack on the UN head office in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

Nigeria’s population is pretty evenly divided between Christians and Muslims and most of the time they seem to get along with each other. But since Boko Haram launched its terror campaign in 2009, tensions between the two have been rising. The more Boko Haram attacks Christians, the worse relations between the two will become.

Boko Haram’s terror war has also caused a lot of economic damage to Nigeria. Foreign and domestic investors have fled the troubled northern part of Nigeria and its GDP is estimated to have fallen by 30% since 2010. Government service in the area is crumbling as well. Government workers in the area, frightened as potential targets, don’t bother showing up for work.

Boko Haram claims it wants to install an Islamic state in Nigeria. Given that half its population is Christian and observing how the terror group currently treats Christians, they will strongly resist such efforts of Boko Haram and thwart that particular dream. Boko Haram’s fallback position would be to try and establish their Islamic state in northern Nigeria which is overwhelmingly Muslim. In this scenario, their odds are better, as Nigeria, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is awash in tribalism. This enables Boko Haram to play one against the other producing local chaos, which they claim only they can resolve under the banner of Islam.

Nigeria is rife with corruption and this, plus the religious issue, tribalism, cronyism, ignoring social and health problems and fear from the violence threatening to spread to other areas of the country and the Nigerian government’s seemingly inability to address these suggests troubled, tenuous, dark days ahead for the country.

Boko Haram’s Abul Qaja also claims the group is a spiritual follower of al-Qaeda and claims they have been training and getting funding from Saudi sources. “Al-Qaeda are our elder brothers,” said Qaja. “During the lesser Hajj [August 2011], our leaders travelled to Saudi Arabia and met al-Qaeda there. We enjoy financial and technical support from them. Anything we want from them we ask them.” This suggests al-Qaeda’s presence in Saudi would not go unnoticed by Saudi intelligence and therefore by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Although the 9/11 Commission Report did not find evidence of a conspiracy involving the government of Saudi Arabia in the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

Documents seized by Navy SEALS during the 2011 attack in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, who was a Saudi Arabian, shows top level contacts between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda.

Boko Haram’s terror war seems to be spreading to some of Nigeria’s neighbors. Some 300 Boko Haram terrorists were spotted in Mali in early 2012 and helped Islamic jihadists capture the northeast of Mali. Qaja claims that Boko Haram is recruiting fighters to join the group from neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. The UN says arms from Libya may have been smuggled to Boko Haram and its terror partner, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb via Chad, Niger and Nigeria. In February 2014, the Nigerian army claimed it had sealed the border with Cameroon. Given the terrain and the corruption in the Nigerian government, including the Nigerian military, this “sealed border” will no doubt spring many leaks.

Operating outside of Nigeria in conjunction with other jihadist elements in the area could result in the creation of a vast ungoverned area under the sway of militant Islam consisting of parts of Niger, Chad and southern Libya. If you add an Islamized northern Nigeria, this could become a future haven for Islamic militants to train and prepare for attacks not only in Nigeria and other parts of Africa but outside the continent as well.

With this chunk of sub-Saharan Africa becoming a so-called “liberated area” militant Islam can plot, plan and train for future acts of terror. In this regard, it is well to quote Boko Haram’s spokesman Abul Qaqa again: “…You don’t put down your arms in Islam, you only put them aside.”

Nigeria is becoming more and more ungovernable. Ethnic and regional splits are deepening and religious cleavages are becoming more serious. Muslim fundamentalism and growing evangelical Christian militancy are on the rise and the will to keep Nigeria together is weakening as well… Wafe Soyinka, the recipient of Africa’s first Nobel Prize for Literature, noted Nigeria’s plight with a gloomy forecast: “I consider that Nigeria is on the verge, on the brink of a massive implosion that will make what’s happening in the Sudan child’s play. We know there are movements for secession in this country. We know that everybody is preparing for the contingency of breaking up…”

Dark days lie ahead for Nigeria, other parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the fight to protect and defend persecuted Christians against militant Islam.


Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.