Political ties with violent Nigeria sect alleged

AP News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2011 10:50 AM
Political ties with violent Nigeria sect alleged

Powerful politicians helped form a radical Muslim sect responsible for hundreds of killings this year in Nigeria to seize control of regional power and oil money, authorities allege, but now may have lost control of the monster they created.

The State Security Service said it made a breakthrough in uncovering support for the extremist group Boko Haram when it arrested Ali Sanda Umar Konduga, who the agency said was one of several spokesmen for Boko Haram. The secret police agency described Konduga as a "political thug" who received orders from a member of Nigeria's parliament.

Konduga, who purportedly used the nom de guerre al-Zawahiri when speaking on Boko Haram's behalf, allegedly implicated a member of the National Assembly in the group's activities. Konduga's nickname derives from al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, though Boko Haram has no known direct ties with his group.

On Tuesday, authorities arrested and arraigned Sen. Mohammed Ali Ndume of Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party for allegedly being Konduga's sponsor. The senator belonged to a committee looking at possible peace talks with Boko Haram.

The arrest rattled Nigeria's Senate, which held a hasty closed-door meeting Tuesday. Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe, who serves as a spokesman for the legislative body, said the lawmakers discussed "the security situation" but declined to give details.

Abaribe said he is waiting to see proof from police that Ndume is involved with Boko Haram, a terrorist group that carried out a suicide bomb attack on the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria's capital on Aug. 26 that killed 24.

"It's still an allegation and investigations are going on," Abaribe told African Independent Television. "We are encouraging the security agencies to continue with their investigation."

Rufai Ahmed Alkali, a spokesman for the ruling party, did not respond to requests for comment.

Konduga on Monday also implicated a former Nigerian ambassador, now dead, as well as a former governor in Nigeria's northeast in Boko Haram's creation.

Konduga told journalists that Boko Haram expelled him some time ago, suggesting he and his supposed political masters have fallen out of favor with an organization that is increasingly violent and strident. The sect has several spokesmen and Konduga himself hadn't given any statement on the group's behalf for some time.

"The group suspended me because they thought I was an agent of the State Security Service," Konduga said.

Boko Haram has splintered into three factions, with one wing increasingly willing to kill as it maintains contact with terrorist groups in North Africa and Somalia, diplomats and security sources say.

With that wing viewing a wide variety of people and institutions as potential targets, even politicians with ties to Boko Haram can no longer consider themselves safe. Politicians in Maiduguri, the city that is Boko Haram's spiritual home, and other places in the northeast now surround themselves with security and live in apparent fear of the sect.

Politicians in Nigeria long have been rumored to have ties to militants. In the country's southern Niger Delta, where foreign oil firms extract an estimated 2.4 million barrels of crude a day, politicians hand out Kalashnikov rifles to those who help rig elections in their favor. Many of those weapons and gunmen became the part of the militant and criminal gangs kidnapping oil workers and targeting pipelines.

Boko Haram began the same way, as "politically (and) criminally minded field marshals" began arming youths to keep their hands on the reins of power in northeast Nigeria, said Khalifa Dikwa, a professor at the University of Maiduguri. At stake is control of power at the state level in Nigeria, incredibly lucrative positions that control budgets larger than those of neighboring nations thanks to the nation's oil wealth.

The political scene in the northeast is dominated by the All Nigeria People's Party, which Ndume _ the arrested senator _ once belonged to before joining the ruling party. Little is known about the sources of Boko Haram's support, though its members recently began carrying out a wave of bank robberies in the north. Police stations have also been bombed and officers killed.

Boko Haram's attacks and its factional splits make it much more difficult for the national government to arrive at a political solution or an amnesty. The group's main demand is not one the government is likely to bend to in a nation that is split into a Muslim north and a Christian south.

While the Niger Delta militants agreed to lay down their guns for money and the promise of work, Boko Haram wants the strict implementation of Shariah law across the nation of more than 160 million people.

Boko Haram was thought to have been eradicated in 2009 after its leader was killed and its mosques left in ruins. However, the group has staged increasingly brazen attacks over the last two years, including the attack on the U.N. headquarters in Abuja. This month, its fighters led an attack on a northeast Nigeria state capital that killed more than 100 people _ and they still appear ready to kill at will.

"A look at the government's responses shows that it has found it difficult to eradicate Boko Haram but worryingly so, the group seems to be reinventing itself and its strategies," the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies warned in a report this month.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.