FaithWorld

Nigeria starts mediated talks with violent Islamist sect Boko Haram

(People watch as boy scouts carry the coffins of the victims of the Christmas day bombing at St Theresa Catholic Church Madalla, during a mass funeral for the victims, outside Nigeria's capital Abuja February 1, 2012. Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bombing of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Abuja, which killed 37 people and wounded 57, the deadliest of a series of a attacks on Christmas Day in 2011. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

Nigeria’s government has in the last week held its first indirect peace talks with Islamist sect Boko Haram, meeting mediators to discuss a possible ceasefire, political and diplomatic sources have told Reuters.

Two people close to Boko Haram have been carrying messages back and forth between the sect’s self-proclaimed leader Abubakar Shekau and government officials, the sources, who asked not to be named, said.

It was not clear whether any mediators met with President Goodluck Jonathan himself. A presidency spokesman said he could not immediately comment.

Boko Haram has said it wants to impose sharia, or Islamic, law across a country split equally between Christians and Muslims. The group has killed hundreds this year in bomb and gun attacks, mostly in the majority Muslim north of Africa’s top oil producer.

Factbox-What is Nigeria’s violent Islamist sect Boko Haram?

(A car burns at the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde )

Nigeria has held its first indirect peace talks with Islamist sect Boko Haram, meeting mediators to discuss a possible ceasefire, political and diplomatic sources have said,

Here are some facts about Boko Haram:

* Boko Haram became active in about 2003 and is concentrated mainly in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna.

Special Report: Nigeria’s Boko Haram – between rebellion and jihad

(A man walks through the ruins of a zonal police headquarters after a bomb attack in Nigeria's northern city of Kano, January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer)

At about 10.40 one morning last August, Mohammed Abul Barra rammed his ash-colored station wagon into a security gate outside the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, knocking it off its hinges. Barra’s 1996 Honda Accord then crashed through the main building’s glass doors and slammed against the reception desk.

On security tapes of the incident seen by Reuters, a guard peers into the car, evidently unaware that it is packed with explosives. The grainy footage shows a dozen or so people in the reception edge towards the vehicle. Over 10 seconds pass in confusion before one man seemingly realizes what is about to happen. He grabs the person next to him and darts towards the lift. But it’s too late. Barra steadies himself, leans forward and the security screens blur into white fuzz.

Nigeria’s President Jonathan tells Boko Haram Islamists to come out and talk

(Emir of Kano Ado Bayero (R) welcomes President Goodluck Jonathan during his visit to the northern city of Kano January 22, 2012, following bomb attacks that took place on Friday. REUTERS/Stringer)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan challenged the violent Islamist Boko Haram sect on Thursday to identify themselves and state clearly their demands as a basis for talks, while acknowledging that military confrontation alone will not end their insurgency.

In an interview with Reuters at the presidential villa in the capital Abuja, Jonathan said there was no doubt that Boko Haram had links with other jihadist groups outside Nigeria.

Nigerian police find bomb-filled cars in Kano after Boko Haram attacks killed 178

(Red Cross officials load bodies into a truck in Nigeria's northern city of Kano January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer)

Nigerian police said they found cars and vans filled with explosives in the northern city of Kano on Monday, three days after Islamist sect Boko Haram carried out a deadly attack there. Security in Nigeria’s second largest city has been beefed up since Friday when bomb attacks and fierce gun battles between the sect and police killed at least 178 people.

“The police were on a stop-and-search today and in two of the checkpoints, the Boko Haram members on sighting the checkpoints abandoned their vehicles and ran,” a high-level police officer told Reuters, asking not to be named. “The vehicles were later checked and the cars were loaded with explosives. Two brand new Hilux open pick-up vans were also found packed with explosives in the Bompai area of Kano.”

Nigeria’s radical Islamist Boko Haram ups it’s game, but it’s not Al Qaeda

(Security forces view the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

With a YouTube video reminiscent of the broadcasts of Osama bin Laden, Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram seems keen to paint itself as part of a wider global jihad. But in reality, their concerns and focus look to remain almost entirely Nigerian. Whilst recent high-profile attacks including the bombing of a United Nations compound in August resembled Islamist attacks long common elsewhere, analysts say there remain few proven links to similar militants elsewhere.

Instead, it is seen much more focused on domestic issues — part of a wider swelling of discontent against the current mainly southern and Christian leadership. But there is little doubt it is growing in both power and momentum.

Leader of violent Nigerian Islamist group defends killing Christians in video

(A victim lies on the ground after a bomb attack in Abuja in this December 25, 2011 still image taken from video. Islamist militant group Boko Haram said it planted bombs that exploded on Christmas Day at churches in Nigeria, one of which killed at least 27 people on the outskirts of the capital. REUTERS/via Reuters TV)

The leader of Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram said recent killings of Christians were justifiable revenge attacks and President Goodluck Jonathan had no power to stop the group’s insurgency, in the first video of him posted online. The 15 minute video of Abubakar Shekau posted on YouTube is similar in style to messages submitted by other Islamist groups like al Qaeda, a sign of the growing influence other jihadist movements are having on the sect.

Boko Haram, whose name translates from the northern Hausa language as “Western education is sinful”, has been behind almost daily killings in its home base in the largely Muslim northeast, most recently targeting Christians.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists have support in gov’t, President Jonathan says

(A member of the clergy guides security forces through the scene of a car bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has said the violent Islamist sect Boko Haram has supporters within his own government, and the insecurity the group has created is worse than during the 1960s civil war that killed more than a million people. Jonathan suggested that Boko Haram – which has been blamed for gun and bomb attacks across the country, most recently targeting Christians – had sympathisers at all levels of the government.

“Some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary,” he said at a church service in the capital Abuja late on Sunday. “Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house,” he said.

Nigeria’s Jonathan declares state of emergency against Islamist insurgency

(Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (C, with black hat) visits St. Theresa's Catholic church, the scene of a Christmas day bomb attack, just outside the capital Abuja, December 31, 2011. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde )

President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in parts of Nigeria plagued by a violent Islamist insurgency, and ordered shut the borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger in the northeast. Coming nearly a week after radical sect Boko Haram set off a series of bombs across Nigeria on Christmas Day, including one at a church that killed at least 37 people and wounded 57, Jonathan told state television the measures would aim to restore security in troubled parts of Nigeria’s north.

“The temporary closure of our borders in the affected areas is only an interim measure designed to address the current security challenges and will be resumed as soon as normalcy is restored,” he said on Saturday. He added that his chief of defence staff had been instructed to take other “appropriate” measures, including setting up a special counter-terrorism force.

Insight: Islamist attacks strain Nigeria’s north-south divide

(A sign is seen at a police check point near the main market following recent violent clashes in Nigeria's central city of Jos February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

The line dividing Christians from Muslims that runs along a rocky valley in the central Nigerian town of Jos may not be visible to the eye, but it burns in the minds of local people. The mosque lies barely 200 meters (yards) from the main church in the Congo-Russia neighborhood, a huddle of tin-roofed homes winding up a hill, and on its sandy pavements women in Muslim headscarves politely greet men wearing shiny crucifixes.

Jos, in Nigeria’s volatile “Middle Belt,” is historically a religious and ethnic tinderbox in the country’s sensitive North-South divide between Muslims and Christians. Deadly Christmas Day bomb attacks by shadowy Islamist sect Boko Haram – suspected of links to al Qaeda and with ambitions to impose Islamic sharia law in Nigeria – have stoked fears again of sectarian conflict in Africa’s top oil producer and most populous state.