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January 21, 2013

Ansaru Militants Claim Attack on Nigerian Soldiers

by Heather Murdock

An Islamist militant group known as Ansaru is claiming responsibility for killing two Nigerian soldiers and wounding eight others in an attack on a military convoy headed to Mali. Ansaru is a relatively new group and analysts say its goals appear to be international, rather than aimed specifically at Nigeria.

Their Youtube videos are typical of an Islamist militant group. In this one, released in November the group airs its grievances in English, accusing Nigerian security forces of human rights abuses. In another video, heavily armed men with scarves over their faces are seen in front of a banner bearing their name in Arabic, which roughly translates to the "The group of supporters of Muslims in black Africa." They are commonly known as "Ansaru."

Hussaini Abdu, who heads anti-poverty organization ActionAid in Abuja, said Ansaru is different from a better known Nigerian Islamist militant group called Boko Haram, which has been blamed for more than 1,500 deaths since 2010.

“One striking difference between them and the Boko Haram is that they have also increasingly made their politics, their grievances international," he said. "For instance the attack on the Nigerian military, they said they were doing that because Nigeria has decided to join other forces to fight Islam in Mali."

Ansaru claims links to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and responsibility for kidnapping a French national last month, in addition to a prison break in November that won praise from Boko Haram. The group has also been blamed for the 2011 kidnapping and subsequent deaths of a British and an Italian engineer.

Abdu said increasing insecurity in northern Nigeria has made room for new militant groups to form or splinter off Boko Haram, as Ansaru did in early 2012.

“The government has a lot to lose because once the insecurity degenerates, more groups will continue to emerge and they will frustrate the military and ultimately compound the challenge,” he said.

Even before deploying what will be 900 soldiers to fight rebel groups in Mali, the Nigerian military was stretched thin. Nigerian soldiers now serve on peacekeeping missions in several African countries, as well as fighting militants in the north, oil theft and discontent in the south, and increasing piracy off-shore.

A local paper, The Desert Herald, printed Ansaru’s claim on the military attack on Sunday. The group threatened to carry out more attacks on the Nigerian military.