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Nigeria militant group Boko Haram's attacks attract speculation

Fear of an Al Qaeda link rests on Boko Haram's more aggressive and sophisticated operations, including the bombing of U.N. headquarters in the Nigerian capital.

September 13, 2011|By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

In the capital, the group bombed a crowded fish market on New Year's Eve and attacked a beer garden in May. Hundreds of civilians have been killed this year in more than 70 attacks, the vast majority of them in the north.

Its base, Maiduguri, has been hardest hit, with businesses closing, people shunning public gatherings and motorcycle transportation (used heavily for both people and goods) banned by the state government.

Martin Ewi, an analyst at the Pretoria, South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, sees Boko Haram's targeting of the U.N. as "a deliberate strategic choice aimed at demonstrating that the group means business."

"The attack on the UN headquarters completes Boko Haram's metamorphosis into an international terrorist group and represents a turning point for the future of terrorism in Nigeria," Ewi wrote. "In reality, this means that moving forward the goal of islamisation or for spreading sharia shall not be confined to Nigeria and that other countries in the region are potential targets."

But others question the extent of cooperation between the militant groups.

"I'd be surprised if there's enough organizational sophistication on the part of both entities for some kind of relationship in terms of their organization and capacity," said Thomas Cargill, Africa analyst at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

Harmon, of Pittsburg State, said there isn't enough information about Boko Haram yet to predict the level of threat to Western targets.

"Unfortunately, in order to assess the threat, we have to wait and see if they attack again."

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