by Florian Flade
For the first time al-Qaeda´s North African branch „al-Qaidat al-Jihad fil Maghreb Islami“ has released a statement by „the leader of Jihad in Nigeria Sheikh Abu Bakr Ibn Muhammad al-Sharkawi“.
The document which comes with a picture of the African jihadi is a written Eid al-Fitr sermon given by al-Sharkawi.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was suspected of extending their influence south of the usual operational areas of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger into West African nations of Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria.
The local Nigerian Islamist movement of „Boko Haram“ (called „Nigerian Taliban“) was not officially included into al-Qaeda yet, but that may very well be about to change.
Early September members of the Boko Haram sect attacked a prison in Nigeria, freeing about 730 inmates including around 150 imprisoned Boko Haram members. Police reported the attackers assaulted the prison building heavily armed and shooting at the prison gate. Allegedly they were chanting „Allahu Akbar“ while breaking into the jail.
Last year, Boko Haram started a series of attacks on Nigerian police stations in Northern Nigeria, killing dozens if not hundred of people. The government reacted by crushing the uprising of the Islamist sect with brutal force. Hundreds of Boko Haram members died, it´s leader was tortured and then executed by Nigerian security forces. The sect´s headquarter as well as mosques used by the Islamists were destroyed as a result of the government crashdown.
Boko Haram in responded threatening bloody revenge attacks. Terror network al-Qaeda issued statements saying they are ready to train and arm the youth of Nigeria to fight the government and their Christian allies. The goal being to establish an Islamic Emirate in West African nation.
Little is known about the alleged leader of „Jamaat Ahl us-Sunnah lil Dawa wal Jihad fi Nigeria“ Sheikh al-Sharkawi. He mentions Boko Haram in his now released sermon although it is not clear if he himself was or still is a member of the group. The Nigerian regime killed Muslims, destroyed mosques and desecrated the Quran, al-Sharkawi says, just because they were preaching the true Islam. „We“, the Islamic leader writes, „are innocent of democracy, the Shiism and all the misguided sects“.
The danger of al-Qaeda recruiting large numbers of disillusioned, poor and humiliated Nigerian Muslim youth from the northern provinces where the government´s crackdown hit hard on the local population, is growing.