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The spark for a full-fledged insurgency came in late July 2009. After a clash between police and Boko Haram members resulted in three deaths, riots erupted across northeast Nigeria. On July 28, the army surrounded Yusuf's compound in Maiduguri, arrested him, then executed him. By July 29, 700 people were dead, including enough militants to stall Boko Haram's insurgency. But by 2010, Boko Haram was back. This Nov. 5, at least 67 people died in a Boko Haram attack on the city of Damaturu.
One mistake made by both sides in the wars that followed 9/11 was how they often overlooked the detail and peculiar dynamics of the places in which they fought. In Afghanistan, the U.S. initially all but equated al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and in Iraq many Americans saw little difference between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. For their part, many Muslims still regard 9/11 and the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, as evidence of a global anti-Islamic conspiracy.
Will Africa make the same mistakes? Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan certainly seems susceptible. Rather than focusing on addressing Boko Haram's grievances regarding underdevelopment and corruption, Jonathan a Christian from southern Nigeria describes his country as an unfortunate bystander caught in the cross fire of an international war. Boko Haram are "just like other terrorist attacks in the world," he said on Nov. 10.
If you misread a problem, you can't fix it. If you mischaracterize a local Islamist rebellion as global terrorism, that's eventually what you'll face. "Left to stew, this trend of internationalization is inevitable," says a Western diplomat in Abuja. The Abuja bomb is proof that the causes of Nigeria's militancy have been left unaddressed for long enough that some fighters are now thinking bigger, and Jonathan's misperception is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. National-security adviser Azazi says the attack was most likely carried out by a Boko Haram faction led by a man called Mamman Nur, whom he describes as having sophisticated bombmaking skills and links to Islamists in Mali, Algeria, Somalia and Yemen. "Look at what happened between the crackdown in 2009 and their return in 2010," says Azazi. "Suddenly they can do IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and wire cars. This is something that's been festering and is suddenly exploding."
The Somalian Connection
If Nigeria's Islamist militants are in transition to becoming an international threat, Somalia's made the leap long ago. The 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 230 people, were carried out by an al-Qaeda franchise based in Somalia. In 2006-08, the U.S. says, dozens of American, British, Scandinavian and Australian ethnic Somalis arrived in Somalia and joined the country's latest iteration of Islamist militancy, al-Shabab. That group, and a network of Ugandan and Kenyan jihadists they built, according to both the U.S. and a report by a panel of U.N. Somalia experts, was behind the 2010 Kampala bombings.
All that experience of extremism hasn't always made those fighting it any wiser. Proof of that lies behind a cage door at the back of the pink offices of the National Somali Security Intelligence, next to the presidential palace in Mogadishu. The door opens into a staircase leading down to a basement. At the bottom, according to one source, is another metal door that opens into a central corridor, flanked by 14 jail cells. There is no light, no windows, and the floors and walls are filthy. The place stinks.
The 50 men held there are all terrorism suspects abducted from across East Africa by security services working with the U.S. Ahmed Abdullahi is an ethnic Somali with one leg who was snatched from Nairobi by Kenya's security services in September 2009. "They came to my place in Nairobi, kicked my door down, blindfolded me and took me to the airport and on to Mogadishu," he says. On arrival, he says, he was interrogated by Somalis and unidentified Western personnel for a few weeks. They then lost interest. Abdullahi's been held ever since. "No one gets out of here," says the 26-year-old. "They don't know what to do with me. They can't let me out and risk me talking about this place."