US Africa Command's top military official has said there is a threat of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram linking up. According to Army General Carter F. Ham, there is evidence that the three groups are combining efforts.
Ham, in a speech at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington D.C. on June 25, 2012, identified the three organizations as potential threats to US interests in Africa. He said that although it is true that the US military is largely focused on the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, the US is committed to protecting its interests from threats that may emerge in Africa.
AllAfrica.com reports that Ham said: "I'll start in East Africa, where we see very clearly the threat of al-Qaeda in East Africa, and its affiliated organization, al-Shabaab, which operates principally, but not exclusively, in Somalia."
He said the US has been involved in training, equipping and funding the African Union Mission and Somalian forces. He said rather than maintain a large force, the US plans to apply its resources to help willing African countries contribute to the effort.
According to Ham, the US was particularly concerned about Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb because it now has a safe haven in large areas of Mali following the successful military coup in the country. Ham said: "The group is operating essentially unconstrained" and has shown a clear intention to attack Americans.
Ham also spoke about Boko Haram: "Just to the south of that, we see the increasingly violent organization, Boko Haram, operating in Nigeria." He said that Boko Haram is not monolithic. "Everybody in Boko Haram doesn't feel the same way. It has many different factions."
The Boko Haram-Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb connection
According to General Ham, each of the three organizations identified "is, by itself, a dangerous and worrisome threat. What really concerns me is the indications that the three organizations are seeking to co-ordinate and synchronize their efforts. This is a real problem for us and for African security in general."
Ham said there is a move "to establish a cooperative effort amongst the three most violent organizations." Ham said: "Al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram may be sharing funds, training and explosive materials."
According to AFP, the US State Department has said that Khalid al-Barnawi, one of the three leaders of Boko Haram that the U.S. designated as "global terrorists" has links with Al Qaeda.
According to the US State Department, Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar, who was also designated a "global terrorist," have "close links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."
Imam Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader
According to Daily Mail, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is a militia that aims to institute an Islamic state on the continent and has been linked to several kidnappings, attacks and killings of Western nationals. Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group that has been waging a bloody insurgency in Nigeria with the purported aim of implementing full sharia law in the country.
AFP reports that Barnawi is believed to run a militant training camp in the Algerian desert and was involved in the abductions of French, British and Italian nationals in Niger and Nigeria last year. According to AFP, Abu Mohammad, who allegedly masterminded the kidnap of a Briton and Italian in Nigeria, was trained at the camp organized by Barnawi in Algeria. Abu Mohammad died in Nigeria after suffering gunshot wounds in custody.
AFP reports that sources close to Boko Haram say that Abu Mohammad and Barnawi formed an alliance with the faction of Boko Haram led by Abubakar Shekau, who was also designated a "global terrorist." According to sources that AFP quotes, the three formed an alliance in which Mohammad and his group would carry out abductions for ransom, part of which would go to financing Boko Haram operations. Boko Haram, in turn, would provide security cover for Mohammad's group.
According to the sources, Barnawi had a disagreement with an Al Qaeda "spiritual adviser" over the kidnappings in Nigeria. He allegedly carried out the kidnappings without the consent of Al Qaeda.
Barnawi, believed to be in his 30s, was born in Maiduguri, the capital city of the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno. Borno is the base of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Abubakar Adam Kambar is also believed to be in his 30s and a native of Borno State. Kambar, according to AFP's sources, had been an active member of Boko Haram when late Mohammed Yusuf was the head of the group. Nigerian troops killed Yusuf in an assault during a Boko Haram uprising in 2009. Kambar is believed to have escaped to Algeria where he became associated with Barnawi.