ISWAP: US, Russian Presidents, British Prime Minister, others asked to save Nigeria from terrorists, track sponsors

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The Centre for Counter-Terrorism and Preventive Diplomacy has called on world powers to support Nigeria in her counter-terror campaign with sophisticated technology to track financiers and sponsors of terrorists’ activities in the country.

The centre made this call in an experts’ opinion/report on the threat posed by Boko Haram/ISWAP to Nigeria and the fringes of the Lake Chad region.

The report also gave a detailed account on various atrocities committed by ISIS against humanity ranging from threats to women and children to economic threats to the people of Nigeria

The report, which has been has been sent to the offices of the US President, British Prime Minister, Russia President and other world powers, called for the need for tracking of funding by the terrorists, serious sanctions on collaborators.

The report compiled by Elizabeth Robertson, George-Washington, Alexandra Thome and Christopher Stuart and obtained by our reporter on Monday, noted that failure to look at the underlisted recommendations would be equal to total breach of the world’s obligations to the citizens.

The report reads in full.

The Centre for Counter- Terrorism and Preventive Diplomacy was alarmed with the recent activities of members of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria and around the fringes of the Lake Chad Region.

Consequently, a special committee was set up with the mandate to commission detailed research on the activities of ISWAP/Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region in a bid to make recommendations on how best the ISWAP/Boko Haram menace can be addressed.

The Islamic State in West Africa or the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (abbreviated as ISWA or ISWAP formerly known as Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād and commonly known as Boko Haram until March 2015 is a jihadist terrorist organization based in north-eastern Nigeria, also active in Chad, Niger, and northern Cameroon.

Since the early 2010s, the jihadist armed group Boko Haram has wielded power and influence in north-eastern Nigeria and parts of adjoining states in the Lake Chad basin. The group clawed its way back from a failed uprising in July 2009 against the Nigerian government that left more than 1,000 dead, including the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, to re-emerge as a full-fledged insurgency under the command of one of Yusuf’s lieutenants, Abubakar Shekau, a year later.

Over the next five years, and at an unusually rapid pace between 2013 and 2015, the group seized control of much of Nigeria’s Borno state and began operating in border areas of neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. They plundered villages and bombed markets and churches, as well as mosques it deemed “infidel.” In April 2014 it staged the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state. This mass abduction, which earned it global condemnation, was only one in a long series of violent incidents of striking brutality.

The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) is growing in power and influence. From its territorial base on the banks and islands of Lake Chad, this jihadist group is waging a guerrilla war across north-eastern Nigeria and elsewhere on the lake’s periphery. It has cultivated a level of support among local civilians and has turned neglected communities in the area and islands in Lake Chad into a source of economic support.

As its name suggests, ISWAP is affiliated with the Islamic State, or ISIS, caliphate in Iraq and Syria, whose remnants count ISWAP victories as their own. ISWAP appears to be working hard to gain enormous favour from its namesake organization, and it has obtained some support already, notably in the form of training.

ISWAP’s deepening roots in the Lake Chad Basin Region underscore that the Nigerian government (and, to a lesser extent, those of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger) must stand firm in its commitment to confront them. This can only be achieved if the rest of the world take a strong diplomatic positions to support these countries with extra funding, technology and sophisticated fighting equipments.

The Lake Chad basin has in recent years become an essential epicentre of violence, its population suffering intensified attacks by the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), also known as Boko Haram. At the end of 2014, ISWAP’s violence expanded from northeast Nigeria to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Multiple suicide bombings and raids targeting civilians in villages and cities around the Lake Chad basin have caused widespread trauma.

Last year and in the first months of 2016, violence by ISWAP generated a mass movement of people within the Lake Chad region as well as, on a smaller scale, an influx of refugees from neighbouring Nigeria. Also, the Chadian government’s response to ISWAP attacks forced tens of thousands of residents of the Lake area to leave their villages.

In early June, around 70,000 people were forced from their homes in Niger’s south-eastern Bosso area when ISWAP carried out a series of raids. Attacks by the armed group have been on the rise in southern Niger since March, as a result of increased pressure from military operations in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Since July last year, ISWAP has intensified attacks on military targets, killing dozens of soldiers and overrunning bases, mainly in the Lake Chad area of Nigeria, Chad, and Niger where it is the dominant insurgent group.

In late December, when ISWAP fighters overran two military bases in and around the fishing town of Baga, east of Borno state capital Maiduguri on the shores of Lake Chad. Images released by ISIS appeared to show large quantities of weapons, vehicles and other equipment captured during the fighting in and around Baga.

ISWAP also attacked nearby military locations in Cross-Kauwa, Kukawa, Kekeno, and Bunduram, and made three unsuccessful attempts to overrun Monguno, prompting preparations for a military offensive in the area late last year.

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In May, ISIS released video featured extensive battle footage of attacks against military bases which appear to have been carried out between November and January, including assaults in Kareto, Arege, and Baga in the Lake Chad area of Borno state.

Since May 2019, ISIS attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province affiliate, rather than to what was previously known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

In a June 15 in an ISIS propaganda video, ISWAP militants purportedly in Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso were shown reaffirming their pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Baghdadi.

The multinational joint task force fighting militants across the Lake Chad region said 300 Boko Haram militants had attacked Darak, a village in northern Cameroon, killing 10 of its personnel and eight civilians.

In May 2019, fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province faction attacked a military base in the town of Gubio, around 80 km (50 miles) north of Borno state capital Maiduguri, firing heavy weapons and dislodging troops.

ISIS claimed that 20 Nigerian soldiers were killed when ISWAP fighters “took control” of the base. ISIS later released a video showing ISWAP attacks mainly in the Lake Chad area between November and January. The video also appeared to show the execution of nine people, including one tank crewman who was killed with a rocket-propelled grenade.

In June 2019 one Chadian soldier was killed, and 12 other soldiers were injured during a Multinational Joint Task Force operation against ISWAP fighters in the Baga area of Nigeria’s Borno state.

The north-east has been destabilized for nearly a decade by the militant group Boko Haram, which has notoriously kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in 2014. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to bring security to the region and was re-elected in 2019 partly on this promise. But Boko Haram and its powerful Islamic State-allied offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), have recently launched many attacks in this area of Nigeria and its neighbours.

The activities of ISWAP and insurgency have dramatically changed the lives of thousands of women and girls, often casting them voluntarily or by force into new roles outside the domestic sphere.

According to OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), in the entire Lake Chad basin, some 3.8 million people are now facing hunger. The violence, displacement, and disenfranchisement of millions of people across the Lake Chad basin have exposed them to abuse and human rights violations.

The activities of ISWAP have various implications on women and children, as this vulnerable group of persons tend to suffer most from the crisis of any kind. Women and children under the age of 18 especially girls have been negatively impacted by the crisis in the form of lack of access to basic needs, sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, abuse, and abduction.

The prevailing security situation and the resulting humanitarian crises in the Northeast have various economic, physical, and psychological impacts on women and children. Women and children have been at the receiving end of the brunt of the activities of Boko Haram terrorists as a result of increasing feminization of terror vide the use of young girls and children in their nefarious activities.

The Lake Chad Basin region, comprising Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, is the setting of a violent campaign by the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP). The violence perpetrated ISWAP has resulted in the deaths of nearly 30,000 people, extensive physical destruction, the displacement of some 2.4 million people, and a severe food crisis affecting 6.6 million people. Economic activity has effectively ground to a halt.

From the outset, nationals from Niger, Chad, and Cameron travelled to northern Nigeria attracted by the charismatic sermons of Mohammed Yusuf (the founder of Boko Haram) and by the small loans offered to his followers. This provided the foundation for a multinational sect, dominated by the Kanuri ethnic group, stretching across the Lake Chad sub-region.

Exploiting the cultural, ethnic and religious ties that Chad, Niger, and Cameroon share with northern Nigeria, Boko Haram as it were had conducted extensive cross-border smuggling of weapons and supplies, as well as the recruitment of fighters.

Boko Haram has disrupted the entire spectrum of humanitarian activities in affected areas in the Lake Chad Basin. Pre-existing fragility combined with ongoing conflict has left civilians in a dire situation, where the threat of violence, malnutrition, and starvation, lack of essential services and constant fear – in addition to trauma resulting from a seven-year conflict – have become persistent features of life. Parts of Chad and Niger, in particular, suffer from chronic crises that predate Boko Haram. The arrival of people fleeing the conflict, most of whom live in local communities rather than camps, has put additional strain on limited food, shelter, land and health, and sanitation services.

Cameroon is also struggling. The crisis caused a 25% decrease in cereal production in the north in 2016 compared to the previous year. In Adamaoua, food insecurity increased from 19% in early 2016 to 39% a year later. Some 65,000 Cameroonian children under the age of five are thought to be suffering from severe malnutrition.

In Nigeria, the number of people exposed to food insecurity has doubled since March 2016. Displaced people, many of whom have been in displacement for two or three years, are easy targets for further violence and extortion.

Local governments, international organizations and foreign partners produced a regional Humanitarian Response Plan for 2017 for the four Lake Chad Basin countries in September 2016. The ambitious plan requires $1.5 billion in funding, which, remains largely unmet.

It is a fundamental reality that no real development can strive in a war-prone society or a society which is characterized by ceaseless bombings and attacks, mainly aimed towards security operatives. As a result, any revolution in his policy raises suspicious of what may become the future of development democracy. In more practical terms, Nigeria as a state is deliberately and logically situated in the globe to maximize it’s probably of natural possessions.

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Terrorist activities on economic development mention that the instrument which is supposed to be used for sustainable development is conversely being used for destruction and vandalization purposes.

The economic impact of Boko Haram activities in North East Nigeria is estimated at $9bn (N274.5bn). The loss of agricultural production in North East Nigeria caused by Boko Haram activities is estimated at $3.5bn (N107bn). With an increase in Boko Haram attacks and the displacement of nearly two million Nigerians, agricultural production has plummeted, and staple food prices have sky-rocketed.

Northeast Nigeria now faces one of the world’s worst food security crises, with around 3.8 million people who will face critical food insecurity and approximately 7.7 million in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance this year.

Hunger is ravaging the land. Worse, there is no end in sight as the latest forecast by the Food and Agriculture Organisation strongly projects that Nigeria’s efforts to achieve zero hunger by 2030 are being seriously undermined. At the 2018 World Food Day, the Rome-based agency warned of the dangers ahead, citing the conflicts plaguing the country. The Boko Haram conflict is driving away farmers from their homes in North-East, Nigeria. All this leaves Nigeria in a desperate situation.

The mass emigration of Nigerian citizens, who are non-indigenous to the northern region of the significant conflict-affected cities, is the second formidable threat posed by Boko Haram to the Nigerian economy. The rush to escape from the north is already affecting the profitability of business establishments in that region.

As the Islamic State is squeezed out of its self-proclaimed caliphate in the Middle East, its offshoot in West Africa, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), appears to be growing even stronger.

In recent times, ISWAP has gained a grim kind of momentum, establishing itself in new towns in north-eastern Nigeria and beyond. Along the way, its fighters have slain hundreds of people. ISWAP is rising in West Africa. And it is clear that the splinter group, which broke away from Boko Haram in 2016, works very differently from the organization it swore allegiance to.

Instead of modelling itself on the Islamic State, ISWAP is gaining ground, and influence, around the Lake Chad Basin area—spreading out from Nigeria into Chad and Niger—using the same approach that has strengthened organizations aligned with the Islamic State’s rival, al Qaeda.

Also, where the Islamic State focused on carving out claims to the territory at the expense of the population who lives there, ISWAP has attempted to co-opt rather than coerce. In fact, rather than fighting to gain territory and trying to hold on to it by governing with brutality as the Islamic State has done in Iraqi towns such as Fallujah and Mosul, ISWAP, like al Qaeda affiliates, has placed great emphasis on cultivating relationships with local communities and taking advantage of those strong ties to exert considerable influence on how they function.

ISWAP has learned from al Qaeda affiliates that blending into local communities will make it a lot easier to win support and gain a foothold in the Lake Chad region. On the ground, ISWAP has moved to assure people that they will not be harmed in the territories it is seeking to control, provided locals do not cooperate with the Nigerian military.

ISWAP has fuelled instability across the Lake Chad Basin. It has displaced millions and put them at risk of starvation, jeopardized education and health services, stalled humanitarian aid efforts, and undercut government authority in Nigeria and abroad .

Under these conditions, it becomes challenging for the Nigerian military to target the group, because unless they can earn the genuine support of communities and motivate them to incriminate members of the terrorist organization, ISWAP’s members can mainly pass undetected. As part of ISWAP’s efforts to gain popularity and win the allegiance of future fighters, the group has even been offering loans to young entrepreneurs in the region.

It has placed particular emphasis on butchers, traders, tailors, beauticians, and other vocational entrepreneurs. The group doesn’t necessarily expect all of its recipients to pay back the loans. Instead, it operates on the understanding that those who can’t repay their debt with money will settle their account by playing a vital role in facilitating the group’s growth by providing both loyalty and services.

ISWAP’s ability to attract a range of fighters from Nigerian communities has helped the group extend its reach in north-eastern Nigeria, where many locals are in dire need of social assistance.

The terrorism threat in Nigeria and the West African sub-region is increasing because of links between ISWAP and terrorist groups around the world who have continued to provide the backbone for ISWAP’s operations in Nigeria and indeed the West African sub-region to thrive.
The resurgence of ISWAP around Lake Chad means continuing conflict for Nigeria and neighbouring countries, as well as ongoing peril for civilians caught in the crossfire.

The situation in the Lake Chad region requires urgent intervention from the worlds super powers such as the United States of America, United Kingdom and Canada in the areas of the deployment of hi-tech technology in tracking the source of funding of ISWAP and as well as imposing sanctions on their collaborators.

This is on the heels that the ISWAP terrorist group has at its disposal a seemingly limitless amount of heavy weaponry, vehicles, bombs and ammunition that it uses to kill with unfathomable wantonness. According to a survey of academic, governmental and journalistic accounts, ISWAP funds its escalating acts of terror through a diverse network of black market dealings, local and international benefactors, and links to al-Qaeda and other well-funded groups in the Middle East. Analysts say its fundraising apparatus is intricate and opaque.

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The story of ISWAP fundraising begins after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Around that time, Osama bin Laden sent an aide to Nigeria with $3 million in local currency to dispense among groups that shared al-Qaeda’s mission to impose Islamic rule. One of the “major beneficiaries as reported was Boko Haram.

The world super powers must urgently realise that ISWAP has, like most other terror groups, been pointed out as a group that receives funds from foreign and particularly Gulf donors. One case that would support such claims is the connections ISWAP has with Cameroonian businessman Alhaji Abdalla, who runs a vehicle import business with dealings in Qatar. Also the confession of Sheikh Sani Haliru, which claims that throughout his many years as a Boko Haram fighter, he visited countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Niger, and received his training in Pakistan and Libya.

Our group of experts agree that one of the best ways to stall ISWAP is to cut off its funding. The super powers of the world must act fast in deploying the needed technology towards tracking the source of funding of the nefarious activities of ISWAP with a view to cutting it off, as well as tracking collaborators and meting out appropriate sanctions.

In terms of IHL’s application to situations of terrorism and counter-terrorism, it is crucial to understand that the term ‘terrorist’ in situations of armed conflict has no associated special legal significance and is not defined within IHL.

The two Additional Protocols expressly prohibit acts or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population or those no longer taking part in hostilities. Article 51(2) Additional Protocol I and article 13(2) Additional Protocol II expressly prohibit these acts of terrorism in the conduct of hostilities, providing that “[a]cts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”

Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in the Lake Chad Basin region, the result of a relentless and ongoing campaign of violence by ISWAP. With the disaster threatening to undermine decades of development, heads of state, leaders of the world must come together and channel their technological expertise towards cutting off the source of funding of ISWAP.

Terrorist organizations such as ISWAP have adapted and become innovative to ensure their monetary funds are secure and undetectable. ISWAP is one organization that has found ways to ensure its finances are almost undetectable. It has become a powerful and destructive violent extremist organization while obtaining millions of dollars in funding. The United States and the international community must look for ways to disrupt ISWAP’s financial apparatus outside conventional counter threat finance measures.

They must also as a matter of urgency see to the fact the international conspirators of ISWAP are identified and appropriate sanctions imposed on them. For instance, in April of 2016, the commanding general of the U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (SSOCAF), Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, said that ISIS and ISWAP are increasingly sharing tactics techniques and procedures. General Bolduc highlighted that an ISIS weapons convoy was detected departing Libya and believed to be headed to the Lake Chad region to provide support to ISWAP.
Thus it must be noted that it is not only people on the front lines who are affected. Huge displaced populations are being hosted by communities already grappling with hunger and poverty. The unrest has caused widespread school closures and disrupted trade. Addressing violent extremism in all its aspects is a collective task which demands all hands on deck because we are dealing with a large population of young people who are susceptible to the influences.

The world as a body owns citizens the obligations to protect their rights to life. This is on the heels that the right to life is a moral principle based on the belief that a human being has the right to live and, in particular, should not be killed by another human being.

Displacing ISWAP will not be easy. Although the group’s methods are often violent and coercive, it has established a mostly symbiotic relationship with the Lake Chad area’s inhabitants. And this portends grave danger.

ISWAP’s deepening roots in the civilian population underscore that the Nigerian government (and, to a lesser extent, those of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger) cannot do it alone. To ensure its defeat, the United States of America and the international community must as a matter of urgency come up with a lasting solution to the threat posed by ISWAP by deploying the needed technology that would track the source of funding for ISWAP, as well as identifying those that have continued to support the heinous activities of ISWAP.

Perhaps most worrying for Nigeria’s and its neighbours’ security is how ISWAP has adapted its military tactics and policies toward civilians. As for the link between ISIS and ISWAP, ISIS’s fast-growing promotion of ISWAP’s military successes – likely seen as welcome counterpoints to the collapse of its holdings in Iraq, Syria, and Libya – suggests that the organizations are drawing closer. Through its communications channels, ISIS has shared videos that showcase ISWAP footage and include ISIS stylistic touches, indicating growing cooperation and more accessible communications between the two groups.

This consequently calls for urgent and proactive measures to be put in place as the threat of ISWAP is real and gaining momentum. The international community must rise to the occasion to combat this phenomenon threatening the peace in the Lake Chad region.

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