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Al Qaeda in the Niger delta?


Is al Qaeda behing the attacks on oil facilities in the Niger delta?

Evidently, Al Qaeda would like people to think so:

Internet forums close to the al-Qaeda network have claimed responsibility for guerilla operations against foreign oil companies in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. In an apparent link between international jihadi groups and the ongoing unrest in the oil-rich African nation, the websites have published photos of nine employees of the US petrol company Willbros, kidnapped on 18 February. Their captors are guerillas fighting to force foreign oil companies to abandon the area and ensure the income from the industry is detinated to the local Ijaw ethnic group.

"Photos of the Lions of Nigeria after having taken prisoner some Americans" runs the headline, with the following text: "Allah supports you oh Lions of Nigeria! These are the photos of the mujahadeen in Nigeria after the seizure of nine hostages from the US oil companies who rob the wealth of Muslim Nigeria and of the world. Subsequently six of them were freed and they are Muslims while the American pigs remain in their hands."

The message refers to the liberation on 1 March of six of the hostages. The first to be freed was an elderly American, Macon Hawkins, who suffers from diabetes and was freed on his 69th birthday. After that two Egyptians, two Thais and a Philippino worker were also released.

Two American citizens and one Briton are still being held.

The MEND (aka COMA) rebels themselves, however, deny the connection:

Ijaw militants under the aegis of Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have denied any link with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda group.

This is coming on the heels of a declaration by Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ganiyu Adekeye, that military option may be the last in resolving the Niger Delta crisis should other attempts fail.

But prominent Nigerians have cautioned against use of force in resolving the crises in the region.

Senator Jubril Aminu and Methodist Church Archbishop of Ibadan, Most Reverend Emmanuel Ogunyemi, speaking at different fora, said a military solution will only achieve a fragile peace in the volatile region.

Mend's denial was contained in a press release signed by its spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte and made available to Daily Champion in Port Harcourt.

"Let us also use this medium to renounce any affiliation or association with any terrorist group or network such as al-Qaeda," the statement declared.

MEND, Whyte insisted, owe no allegiance to any terrorist network and does not need the assistance of any terrorist group to carry out its agenda.

Dan Darling, at ThreatsWatch, tends to take the rebels at their word. "it is extremely important to recognize here where the facts and end and speculation begins," he writes. "Far too much information out of Nigeria is already based on rumor and hearsay and it is exceedingly easy for the Nigerian government to exploit Western ignorance of Ijaw culture and history in order to paint them as being in league with al-Qaeda, something it has gone to great pains to avoid with respect to the leadership of the northern sha’riah movement."

At the same time, Darling calls attention to this report on DEBKAfile, which suggests that the militants may be getting some outside help from Islamists:

DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report that a group identifying itself as Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (COMA) has claimed the crash on Oct. 23. The plane bound for Abuja came down at Lissa village minutes after takeoff from Lagos airport. Aboard were senior Nigerian officials who have never been identified by the authorities. Before disappearing from the airport radar, the pilot sent a distress signal.

COMA threatens more attacks on “Nigerian agents and infrastructure” until its leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari is released from detention. The detained man has asked his followers to cease violent action, but they publicly rejected his request and threatened strikes against Nigeria’s oil pipelines.

The Nigerian group claims to be linked to al Qaeda and operating under the command of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. One theory is that the plane was brought down by a missile.


Darling also points to this story in the Nigerian Independent regarding Dokubo-Asari's possible ties to al Qaeda:

An appellate court in London, the Crown Court, will today decide whether Bayelsa State Governor, Depriye Alamieyeseigha, should be granted bail on the allegations of money laundering leveled against him.

The substantive case comes up on Friday at the Bow Street Magistrate Court.

The lower court refused him bail last Wednesday and  remanded him in prison.

Alamieyeseigha’s counsel, Fidelis Odittah, is today expected to argue for bail on health grounds as his client was arrested in London on his way from Germany where he had gone for surgery.

Meanwhile, a diplomatic source has disclosed in Abuja that the London police had expected to make a large haul of weapons when they arrested Alamieyeseigha last month.

According to the source, he was being suspected of backing terrorism and – based on intelligence reports forwarded to the British by the Nigerian authorities – of smuggling arms.

That was why the British police made the arrest with 25 police vehicles, cordoning off the British Airways plane as it touched down in London. The police searched all his suitcases, looking for the arms.
It was learnt that the Nigerian authorities had told the London police that Alamieyeseigha is not just a major sponsor of terrorism  he enjoys close links with Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

This was the connection Abuja reportedly made between his arrest and that of South South resource control activist, Asari Dokubo, who was incarcerated soon after the governor’s travail began.

The source explained that since no arms were found on Alamieyeseigha, the Federal Government had to justify its terrorism allegation against him by arresting Dokubo who allegedly once said Osama bin Laden is his hero.

The London police had reportedly been told that the  governor and his “terrorist cell” had perfected plans to destablise Nigeria by ensuring that it is not governable and by making conditions impossible for oil production in the Niger Delta—thus threatening world supply.

Dokubo’s conversion to Islam and his religious title of “Alhaji” makes him fit the Islamic terrorist bill. But those conversant with Rivers State politics have said again and again that Dokubo’s gang was sponsored by an unnamed governor for strong arm tactics during past elections.

He came to national limelight when he fought a rival militia in gangland style, which nearly exposed the governor.

Although there's plainly evidence to suggest that al Qaeda may be giving more than rhetorical support to the Ijaw militants in the Niger delta, the relationship seems more like a marriage of convenience than a strong ideological bond. All the same, it's a connection that we should monitor closely in the months ahead.

Al Qaeda seems determined to use the global oil supply as a weapon—and the Ijaw militants are well positioned to help them achieve that objective.

UPDATE: British journalist David Osler (who comments below) offers further analysis of MEND on his excellent blog, Dave's Part.

Posted by Rodger on March 18, 2006 at 03:11 PM | Permalink


Well, I've been speaking to security analysts in London who are certainly impressed with MEND's abilities.

Posted by: David Osler | Apr 3, 2006 6:25:49 PM

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