Earlier this week, Nigeria witnessed its first suicide bombing. Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group based in northern Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the attack. The target was inspector general of the police Hafiz Ringim, whose motorcade entered the headquarters in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, minutes before the attack. The same day, there was an explosion at a church in the northern Nigerian town of Damboa, for which Boko Haram is also believed to be responsible. The group, sometimes referred to as the Nigerian Taliban, earlier claimed responsibility for a rash of bombings in northern Nigeria immediately after Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan's inauguration two weeks ago.
Just a day before the attacks, Boko Haram disclosed that it had links to radical Islamists in Somalia. A written statement read, "Very soon, we will wage jihad...We want to make it known that our jihadists have arrived in Nigeria from Somalia where they received real training on warfare from our brethren who made that country ungovernable... This time round, our attacks will be fiercer and wider than they have been."
There were already rhetorical ties established between Nigerian and Somali Islamists. Al Shabaab, Somalia's militant Islamist group, frequently referenced the "giants in the north of Nigeria." Al Shabaab has conducted its own suicide bombings in the capital, Mogadishu, and controls much of southern and central Somalia. Even though al Shabaab militants are responsible for the July 2010 bombings in Kampala, Uganda, the group is typically, if mistakenly, seen as only a Somali problem, geographically limited to the Horn of Africa, and focused on its own "near" enemy, the Somali government. But yesterday's attack is a reminder that this al Qaeda linked group also has a "far" enemy strategy.
Al Shabaab has a record of providing shelter to other al Qaeda linked groups and figures. Among others, there is Fazul Abdul Mohammed, an al Qaeda in East Africa operative responsible for the operational planning of the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya and recently killed in Mogadishu. If it was indeed al Shabaab that trained the Boko Haram militants, then Somalia has become a training center as well as a safe haven for radical Islamist groups. Moreover, this new role means that al Shabaab is something more than simply an insurgent group; it is also an enabler in al Qaeda's "far" war against the West and its allies.
Katherine Zimmerman is an analyst for AEI's Critical Threats Project.