January 13, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: From Paris to Baga

• While world attention was focused on the terrorist attacks in Paris, the same ideology of violent extremism and sectarianism—and the resulting ‘us versus all’ behavior—exploded across several regions under near constant assault

• An estimated 2,000 people were massacred by Boko Haram in the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga; the number of casualties is unknown due to the enormity of the attack and the instability and remoteness of the area

• As Paris was paralyzed and Nigeria was traumatized, a car bomb went off outside a police academy in Sana’a, Yemen, killing at least 37—most of them recruits—as the sectarian conflict between Sunni extremists and the Houthi rebels in the country continues to worsen

• After twin suicide bombings in the northern Lebanese town of Jabal Mohsen—with competing claims of responsibility from both the Islamic State and al-Nusra—the Lebanese army was forced to raid one of its own prisons that had become an incubator and microcosm of regional violent sectarianism.

The brazen and shocking terrorist attacks in Paris have understandably captured world attention, particularly with the direct assault on the basic human right of free expression that appears to have far more vocal support than actual governmental support across the globe. But at the same time, an almost unimaginable atrocity was taking place far from the cameras, even as the ideology behind the atrocity was the same as in Paris. In the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga, which shares a border and a lake with Chad, Boko Haram fighters killed between several hundred and several thousand civilians, with machine gun fire and actual fire.

At the high end of the estimates, the casualties are approaching those of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Unfortunately, these attacks have been increasingly common and therefore much harder to counter. The ideology of violent sectarianism, which manifests itself in Boko Haram and other groups as bin Ladinism, regardless of the language or culture, is poisoning the heart of the region. The use of girls as young as ten years old as unwilling suicide bombers—as most recently seen in the market town of Maiduguri but increasingly is a hallmark of Boko Haram tactics—is only the most blatant of the relentless outrages by the group determined to implement its own version of bin Ladinism in the country with the largest population and largest economy in Africa.

Yet the rot of violent sectarianism isn’t confined to Nigeria. On the same day as the initial Paris attack, a car bomb exploded outside a national police academy in Sana’a, Yemen, killing at least 37 people, most of whom were hopeful recruits. It is believed that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was responsible for the attack, as they have claimed credit for several similar attacks in recent months. While credit to a specific group remains important, it is less and less so in terms of stopping future attacks; as seen in the Paris attacks, perpetrators can claim various affiliations while clinging to the same motivation of violence. Yemen will be the birthplace of many more plots.

Sectarianism’s most prominent victim has historically been Lebanon, which has not been able to avoid the latest tensions that stress its constitutional framework. Putting aside the massive human tragedy inside Lebanese refugee camps that are changing the demographics of the country, the Syrian civil war has thrust sectarianism into a country desperate to avoid it. Last week’s twin suicide bombings in the northern Alawite town of Jabal Mohsen (near Tripoli) killed nine and might have ignited smoldering sectarian tensions that have never quite been extinguished. It is appropriate that there are competing claims of responsibility since the term means less and less given the amorphous nature of sectarian motivation. The situation in the area is so fraught with sectarian tension and machinations that the government had to raid one of its prisons—Roumieh Prison—which was beyond the writ of control and whose inmates were allegedly responsible for coordinating the Mohsen bombings.

Usama bin Ladin’s most lasting legacy is not the collapse of the twin towers but the acceptance of violence as it relates to sectarian concerns. Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qaeda in Yemen, or al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Lebanon can claim responsibility for specific attacks but the true culprit is the metastasized sectarianism—the ideology of killing those not of your creed—that is raging from Paris to Baga.


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