Nigeria’s fight against the dreaded Islamist group, Boko Haram, received a major boost Monday as the United States offered a $7m (N1.1bn) reward for information leading to the arrest of Abubakar Shekau, leader of the group.
Shekau, under whose leadership Boko Haram has carried out deadly attacks in Abuja and some Northern States, is believed to have close links to Islamists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
In a recent video obtained by Agence France Presse (AFP), he reportedly called for support from Islamists in those countries in the fight against the Nigerian armed forces. Shekau’s whereabouts could not be determined in the video, in which he was shown seated and dressed in camouflage and a turban with an AK-47 at his side.
The announcement of the reward for information on the Boko Haram leader was hailed by Federal Government, which described it as a welcome development.
“We welcome any effort by the international community to support Nigeria’s effort at waging war against terrorism and its perpetrators. What this proves is that terrorism is a global phenomenon that requires global effort at combating it. Nigeria believes that the international community needs to come together to combat terrorism, “ Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati told journalists in Abuja.
The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice programme, under which the $7 million is accommodated, also targets four other leaders of Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda believed to be responsible for the increasing unrest in West Africa.
Both Al-Qaeda veteran Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed Islamist behind the devastating attack on an Algerian gas plant in January in which three Americans were killed along with 34 others, and AQIM leader Yahya Al-Hammam, reportedly involved in the 2010 murder of an elderly French hostage in Niger Republic have $5 million bounties on teach of their heads.
Others targeted by the US move are Malik Abdelkarim, a senior fighter with AQIM, and Oumar Ould Hamaha, the spokesman for Mali’s Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, who both have $3m rewards posted for each of them.
The $23 million announced Monday as rewards for information on leaders of Islamist terrorist groups confirms growing fears that insurgency in most of West Africa are linked to a wider network.
A senior US State Department official, who spoke with AFP, confirmed the fears that Boko Haram does have links to other Islamist terrorists, saying they do maintain a relationship
“They send people back and forth for training, they’ve done the provision of arms back and forth. The links are… not quite as solid as some of the other terrorist organisations,” he said.
“Nonetheless, it’s a dangerous link and it’s something that we feel we should try and stop. Under his leadership, Boko Haram’s capability has certainly grown,” the official, who asked not to be named, added.
He highlighted how the group set off “their first improvised explosive device in early June 2011. By August (2011) they used a car bomb against the United Nations facility,” an attack which killed 25 people.
“When we see someone like this who… is actually leading to an increase in the capability of an organisation, that’s something that we would naturally try to see if we can do something to impede,” he added.