Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, launched a major attack on a Nigerian Air Force base in the insurgency-wracked city of Maiduguri. A number of security personnel were killed and several aircraft were destroyed during the nighttime attack that is said to have been executed by hundreds of Boko Haram fighters.
Hundreds of fighters assaulted the base on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, using trucks and even a stolen armored personnel carrier, beginning at 2:30 a.m. local time, according to The Associated Press. Boko Haram fighters yelled “Allahu akbar” as they attacked.
According to Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, the Ministry of Defense spokesman, at least 20 security personnel and 24 insurgents were killed, while two helicopters and three decommissioned military aircraft were “incapacitated.” Boko Haram’s use of explosives and RPGs has been confirmed.
A Nigerian Federal Aviation Authority official who did not want to be named said that an attempt to burn down the Maiduguri Airport failed. Boko Haram fighters torched the main headquarters building and a police checkpoint at the main gate. Heavy damage to civilian areas outside of the base was also reported.
As a result of the attack, President Goodluck Jonathan has called for an emergency security meeting in Abuja. A 24-hour curfew has been imposed on the city, including a total ban on movement in or out.
The attack in Maiduguri is reminiscent of others by al Qaeda’s allies on air forces bases in other theaters of the war. Two of the more prominent attacks over the past several years include the Afghan Taliban’s assault on Camp Bastion in Helmand in September 2012 (two US Marines were killed, and six Harriers were destroyed and two more were damaged); and the Pakistani Taliban’s attack on Pakistani Naval Station Mehran in Karachi (10 Pakistani troops were killed, and two US-made P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes were destroyed and another was damaged).
Boko Haram’s assault on the base in Maiduguri took place less than three weeks after the US government added the terror group and Ansuru, a splinter faction, to its list of terrorist organizations. Two days after the designation, the emir of Ansuru called the head of al Qaeda his “emir.”
Today’s attack also takes place just one week after the Nigerian military claimed it cleared the terror group from bases in the Sambisa forest. The military said that more than 100 Boko Haram fighters were killed during the assault.
Boko Haram has conducted numerous terror attacks in Nigeria since the group began waging a low-level insurgency against the Nigerian government four years ago. Major clashes between the two broke out in northern Nigeria during the summer of 2009. Police killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters, and Mohammad Yusuf, the leader, was captured and then executed. Abubakar Shekau, the group’s current emir, continued to attack the state and demand that sharia, or Islamic law, be imposed in the country.
The Nigerian terror group has carried out numerous suicide attacks since its founding. The targets have included churches, newspapers, government officials, and security forces. The most high-profile suicide attack targeted the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in August 2011.
Boko Haram is part of the global jihad
Boko Haram has also expanded its propaganda efforts to show solidarity with al Qaeda and its affiliates. In July 2010, Shekau issued an online statement praising al Qaeda and offering condolences to al Qaeda of Iraq for its loss of Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi. He also threatened the United States.
“Do not think jihad is over,” Shekau said. “Rather jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury.”
In December 2012, Shekau praised al Qaeda and said he and his fighters support the global jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria, Libya, and Mali.
Documents seized at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011 showed that top-level Boko Haram leaders have been in touch with al Qaeda, according to The Guardian. Boko Haram is known to receive support from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and from Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate in East Africa.
In August 2013, it was reported that Boko Haram was among a number of jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that participated in a series of communications with the top leadership of al Qaeda, which included Ayman al Zawahiri and Nasir al Wuhayshi, al Qaeda’s general manager.