DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Islamic extremists are expanding their reach in West Africa, using porous borders and exploiting political chaos to further their attacks, security experts said Monday at the opening of a regional conference on the jihadist threat.
Some 800 security officials and analysts from across the region are taking part in the two-day conference to develop strategies for a coordinated response to the attacks that have mounted this year far beyond Boko Haram's base in northeastern Nigeria.
"I think the main characteristic of the threat today is that this is a threat that knows no boundaries," said Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, African Union special envoy in the fight against terrorism.
As the conference took place, a female teenage suicide bomber in a town along the Cameroonian-Nigerian border targeted a mosque during afternoon prayers. At least four people were killed and dozens were wounded in Fotokol, according to regional Gov. Midjiyawa Bakari.
It also comes after Senegalese authorities announced Saturday that several imams have been arrested and accused of supporting Boko Haram. While the extremist group has been attacking neighboring countries the recently announced arrests are the first suggesting a Boko Haram threat in Senegal, a mostly moderate Muslim nation.
Boko Haram's six-year-old uprising has left an estimated 20,000 people dead, according to Amnesty International. This year militants from the group have stepped up their attack across the Lake Chad region where the borders of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon meet.
"The porous borders between our countries are an advantage for our enemy," Nigerian Gen. Mohammed Babagana Monguno said.
Over the weekend, two girls wearing suicide vests detonated their explosives in Chad in a community along Lake Chad killing several people, according to national television.
"From now on, what we need to focus on is how to establish a new model of governance that does not create the frustration that fuels these armed groups," said Laurent Bigot, a regional analyst and former French diplomat. "Terrorism is not a cause, it is a consequence."
Associated Press writer Edwin Kindzeka Moki in Yaounde, Cameroon, contributed to this report.