Somalia: President Says Boko Haram Is Training in East Africa

Sola West Africa/screenshot
Sola West Africa/screenshot

The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, asserted at a security conference Sunday that Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram has sent its jihadists across the country from Nigeria to train in Somalia.

“Without a stable Somalia, the whole region of the Horn of Africa will remain unstable and by and large, the African continent,” Mohamud said, using Boko Haram as an example. “There are proofs and evidence that [for] some time Boko Haram has been trained in Somalia and they went back to Nigeria … The terrorists are so linked together, they are associated and so organised, we the world we need to be so organised,” he urged.

He did not indicate where within Somalia he believed Boko Haram had traveled to train. Somalia’s most prominent terrorist group is Al-Shabaab, a Sunni jihadi group believed to be formally associated with al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is an Islamic State rival, while Boko Haram accepted ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their “Caliph” in March 2015. Boko Haram has issued appeals to al-Shabaab to abandon al-Qaeda and join ISIS, and the leadership of the group in Raqqa have also released propaganda urging al-Shabaab jihadists to join the Islamic State.

It is not clear how much of al-Shabaab heeded these calls, but there is evidence that, at least in part, al-Shabaab has defected away from al-Qaeda. In November 2015, members of al-Shabaab considered rebels against the group’s leadership released a video pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

As early as March 2015, when Boko Haram had just folded into the Islamic State, reports began surfacing that the deserts of Mauritania had become home to a number of terrorist training camps used by both the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Mauritania is in West Africa, however, a continent’s span away from Somalia.

Al-Shabaab remains extremely active in Somalia, taking credit Monday for the assassination of former government minister Mohydin Hassan Haji, killed by a car bomb in the capital, Mogadishu.

The news of Somalia — if not al-Shabaab specifically — providing a renewable supply of training venues for Boko Haram follows months of the Nigerian government insisting that it has decimated Boko Haram, with President Muhammadu Buhari insisting “we won the war” against the group.

“We are winning the war. We are bringing the war to conclusion, very soon,” Brigadier General Victor Ezugwu of the Nigerian Army reiterated this weekend, insisting that the capital of beleaguered Borno state, Maiduguri, was finally relatively safe. Borno has begun an attempt to bring its internally displaced persons (IDPs) back from other parts of Nigeria, after having fled when the state’s villages were hit with suicide bombers, horseback raids, and other major Boko Haram attacks.

Borno remains the center of Boko Haram activity in Nigeria, as the group uses the dense Sambisa forest as a makeshift headquarters. Neighboring states remain a target, however, and the government is announcing improvements in quality of life there, too. After halting all market activity in Adamawa state, the government announced this week that businesses are once again allowed to be open, and all suspected of trading with Boko Haram jihadists have been dealt with. Adamawa governor Ibrahim Gaidam officially announced Monday that “no part of the state” is under Boko Haram control, and the process of bringing 300,000 IDPs back to the region will soon begin.