- Our Town
Boko Haram's days are numbered, says expert
By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - Boko Haram's days are likely numbered, an expert says of the extremist group responsible for kidnapping nearly 300 teenage girls in Nigeria and for a bus station bombing Tuesday that killed dozens in the west African country.
The U.S., Britain, Canada, France and China have all sent teams to the embattled and impoverished country, which has been locked in a deadly struggle with the al-Qaida-affiliated group for nearly 12 years.
Tuesday's bombing in the central city of Jos, which claimed 46 lives, has stoked fresh fears of mounting chaos at the hands of Boko Haram, which has been condemned around the globe since last month's kidnappings.
As a result, the world's attention is now focused on an organization that has only limited support in the worldwide jihadist community and among its own population, said Wesley Wark, one of Canada's foremost experts on international and domestic terrorism.
Washington is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for an international effort to locate and free the girls. Canada has supplied surveillance equipment and the personnel to operate it. A British surveillance aircraft is also taking part in the search.
Wark, who lectures at both the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto, said Boko Haram has long represented a threat to the stability of Nigeria, especially in the northern region and in oil and resource-rich areas.
But while the spotlight has made them appear to be a global menace, they have in fact been ostracized as too extreme by other jihadists, including the original branch of al-Qaida, Wark said.
"I think Boko Haram has overplayed its hand to the extent that it has engaged in something very, very self-destructive in terms of the kidnapping of the girls," he said.
"This is not something that is going to win it any popular favour in any segment of Nigerian and global society."
For an insurgency to sustain itself, there has to be some measure of support among the population. There were published reports Tuesday that said as many as 500 Nigerian tribesmen, expert in jungle tracking, had taken up weapons and were preparing to hunt for the girls.
The galvanizing of world attention and western intelligence and military know-how will likely lead to the break-up of the group, which was founded in opposition to western values and education in the dirt poor regions of the country, he added.
"I think they're going to be in a battle of survival for their life from here on in."
Some western experts and military analysts have expressed concern that Boko Haram is teaming up with other extremist groups in Africa, notably al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which took over northern Mali in early 2013 and had to be pushed out by French troops.
Wark said he doesn't see a repeat of that scenario, where the extremists actually managed to capture territory. Further, there's little evidence the two groups are co-operating on training, funding and weapons, he added.
As late as 2010, the group routinely deployed gunmen on motorbikes to kill police, politicians and anyone who challenged their narrative, including Muslim clerics and Christian preachers.
But they have since grown more bold, staging attacks in northern and central Nigeria, bombings churches, bus stations, bars, military barracks and even the UN headquarters in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
The country declared a state of emergency in May 2013 and sent troops into northern regions, but that has only increased the size and frequency of attacks.
Boko Haram also targeted the capital on April 14 in a bus station bombing that killed at least 70 people. A follow-up attack at a car park and on May 2 led to the deaths of 19 people.