John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Boko Haram Attacks a Nigerian International Airport

by John Campbell
December 2, 2013

A military plane, that will airlift troops for a military patrol in Hausari village, is parked at Abuja Airport in Abuja June 5, 2013. (Joe Brock/Courtesy Reuters) A military plane, that will airlift troops for a military patrol in Hausari village, is parked at Abuja Airport in Abuja June 5, 2013. (Joe Brock/Courtesy Reuters)

According to incomplete reporting from Nigerian media, the jihadist insurgency Boko Haram carried out extensive attacks in Maiduguri in the early hours of December 2. This was the first such attack on a large city since the imposition of a state of emergency in May, 2013.

In 2007, Maiduguri was estimated to have a population of over one million; after four years of the Boko Haram insurgency, however, it is hard to know how many people live there today.

The media reports that there were attacks on an air force installation with the destruction of one airplane and possibly two helicopters, on the international airport, and various other sites, including a trailer park, military check points, and “residential and public buildings.” Some Nigerian media report that the operation involved three hundred Boko Haram members, others put the number higher.

There is no precision in the reports regarding casualty numbers. One witness said, “I saw five military operational vehicles conveying dead bodies to the hospital about 6am, the bodies were suspected to be security agents killed during the attack.” A spokesman for the Nigerian army said it had “successfully repelled” a Boko Haram attack on Maiduguri and “inflicted serious casualties.” There are also reports that more than a hundred Boko Haram were killed by military airstrikes.

The Borno state government has in response to the attack, imposed a twenty-four hour curfew. Telephone networks in Maiduguri have already been shut down since the declaration of a state of emergency in May.

A few inferences from the incomplete reporting: Boko Haram launched a large operation, including an attack on the airport; there were likely significant casualties, though how many are military, civilian, or Boko Haram is not clear.

The operation also appears to have been a significant Boko Haram escalation. An attack on the international airport and the possible destruction of aircraft will be of particular concern to both the Nigerian and the international business community.

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  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    Graydon Carter’s observations in his “Editor’s Letter,” in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair magazine, about David Kamp’s article, “The Day Before,” which describes daily life in Newton, Connecticut before the Sandy Hook School tragedy, merit consideration.

    Mr. Carter credits Mr. Kamp with offering readers vignettes of “life as it was being lived” in Newton before the shootings. Mr. Kamp achieves this through the use of “accumulated detail of the ordinary.”

    Perhaps Mr. Kamp’s methodology is relevant to analysis of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. At first glance, the two situations seem entirely unrelated. Yet thinking of one in terms of the other may uncover connections that current CT and foreign policy prisms cause observers to miss.

    Connections with outside groups is a staple of the analysis of Boko Haram. But the group’s social roots may be better understood through the “accumulated detail of the ordinary” in areas where it operates.

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