At around 10 pm on Monday June 5th, three assailants conducted simultaneous suicide bombing attacks targeting a Koranic school, a Mosque and a shop in Diffa administration in Niger. Conflicting reports are being circulated regarding the identity of the attackers; it was either three women or two women and one man. According to a local councillor, Elhadji Koura Boukar, the three assailants, who wore explosive belts, crossed the border with Nigeria and Niger. The inhabitants of the border town alerted the authorities about the suspicious behaviour.
This cowardly attack resulted in the death of nine people. According to Boukar, the death toll is expected to rise since eight out of the thirty-seven wounded are in serious condition. A resident of the city, Ari Maman, observed that this attack astonished him since the location of the attacks, which were at the heart of the city, are “usually heavily secured.”
Boko Haram and Niger
Niger is one of the countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin region where al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, Islamic State and Boko Haram are fighting against the government for territory to create an Islamic state governed by a strict interpretation of the Quran and Sharia laws.
Boko Haram, a Nigerian extremist group advocating against Western-style education, has actively attacked Niger since 2015. Many of the attacks, most of which are on soft targets, are concentrated in Diffa administrative region which borders Nigeria and Chad. A UN report noted that the number of kidnapping cases and casualties as a result of Boko Haram attacks has decreased within the last year. It should be noted that the decrease in the number of casualties and attacks is not an indicator of a group’s strength. Reasons for this decrease might include Boko Haram’s decision to save its resources in order to execute more lethal attacks in Niger or shifting their resources to their operations in Nigeria, Cameroon, and/or Chad, which are still on the rise.
What is the government doing internally to fight violent extremism?
The porous borders between Nigeria, Chad and Niger make it difficult for the military and local police to fight against Boko Haram since the conditions are conducive for cross-border hit and run attacks where insurgents can attack and escape back to Nigeria or assimilate into the community without detection.
The Nigerien military is working tirelessly to stop Boko Haram attacks. To assist with the protection of towns near the border with Nigeria, the National Guard stationed in Diffa administration have thwarted and defended towns from attacks, while also arresting suspected insurgents. Unfortunately, some of the defensive tactical decisions have resulted in Boko Haram successes whereby the insurgents have confiscated armoured vehicles and ammunition before escaping back to Nigeria.
In addition to fighting insurgency militarily, the Nigerien government has utilised the judicial system to prosecute suspected Boko Haram assailants. In February 2018, 81 captured insurgents from Niger, Nigeria and Chad stood trial. Although such trails are meant to illustrate to the people the consequences in engaging in terrorism and insurgency, human rights groups question the decision to have closed-door-trial where the public is not fully informed of the charges of the suspected Boko Haram members. Despite the concerns, the government is expecting nearly 1000 people to stand trial.
Cooperation among neighbouring countries
The devastating nature and scope of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad have forced the countries to cooperate against a common goal, the eradication of the extremist group. In April 2018, Nigeria and Niger carried out joint airstrikes against Boko Haram in Arege and Tumbun Rago region in Borno State in Nigeria where “several vehicles…were totally destroyed, killing all the occupants in the process.” Chad sent over 2000 troops to Niger in 2016 to counter Boko Haram but withdrew a year later, claiming the rise in security concerns in Diffa administration. On June 2nd, Chad, Niger, Libya and Sudan signed a border protection agreement that aims to “establish a cooperation mechanism for border security and the fight against transnational organised crime.”
Although it is laudable that Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon are cooperating militarily to combat violent extremism, they must also confront internal and regional circumstances that allow for the spread of these ideas. A study conducted by Libiscki and Jones shows that military is not a conducive tactic to confront either an insurgent group. The military has only a 25 % success rate in combating insurgent groups such as Boko Haram. An element of this should be tackled through their current Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program where questions regarding joining, and recruitment must be asked in order to generate information about would identify potential vulnerable and susceptible persons.