- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2014

Boko Haram, the al Qaeda-inspired African terrorist group fighting to establish an Islamic state rooted in Shariah law, is expanding its operations from northeastern Nigeria into neighboring Cameroon and Niger — much to the alarm of U.S. officials.

The group, which made headlines in 2011 by claiming responsibility for the bombing that killed 21 people at U.N. headquarters in Nigeria, became the subject of fresh international scrutiny last week amid reports that its members had slit the throats of dozens of children at a Nigerian boarding school.

While such incidents may have long defined the horror inflicted by Boko Haram inside Nigeria, U.S. officials say the group now is engaged in a widening regional campaign, with its fighters traveling across the West African nation’s porous borders.

“We have seen some disturbing reports of the regionalization of some of this threat, and that’s upsetting,” said a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss recent developments tied to Boko Haram.

But U.S. officials are not the only ones who are worried. The governments in Cameroon and Niger “are scared to death of [Boko Haram] and what it might mean and what it might lead to,” said John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“You’re talking about states that are very weak and have very limited capacity,” Mr. Campbell said. “So, what are they going to do?”

A ‘war situation’

The State Department official said Boko Haram is responsible for “unspeakable attacks.”

Last week, suspected Boko Haram militants killed about 40 schoolboys in a pre-dawn attack on a school in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Yobe. The attackers burned a locked hostel and then shot and slit the throats of children who escaped through the windows.

While the group’s name in the local Hausa language means “Western education is sin,” Boko Haram’s attacks have not focused exclusively on schools.

On Feb. 15, militants attacked the Christian village of Izge near the border with Cameroon, killing more than 100 people. Less than a week later, the militants killed more than 115 people and burned 1,500 buildings in the northern border town of Bama.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has imposed a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa since May after Boko Haram spokesmen rejected an offer of dialogue with his government.

Last week, a representative from the Jonathan government described the conflict with the Islamic militants as a “war situation.”

It’s an assessment that seemed to speak to the wider division in Nigeria between the nation’s Christian-dominated southern population and its Muslim-dominated North.

While Mr. Jonathan is an outspoken Christian, Boko Haram, whose roots and activities are almost exclusively located in the north, has signaled a desire to carve out its own territory to be governed by Islamic Shariah law.

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