February 1, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, discusses the recent arraignment of the director of one of Nigeria’s largest newspaper groups who was described by prosecutors as belonging to a group dubbed the “Nigerian Taliban,” and charged with receiving funds from al-Qaeda, sending recruits abroad for training, and aiding terrorist activities within the West African country.

In addition to the publisher, a Muslim cleric (or mallam) named Mohammed Bello Ilyas Damagun, two other individuals have faced similar indictments in recent weeks. Meanwhile, in January, another leader of the militant group, which calls itself the Mujahirun, Aminu Tashen-Ilimi, gave his first interview to international media, declaring: “Allah, the almighty Lord, has authorized every Muslim to fight to establish an Islamic government over the world. One day it will happen in Nigeria and everywhere.”

According to Dr. Pham, while “few countries are as vital to the long-term strategic interests of the United States as Nigeria, which currently supplies more than 12 percent of all the crude oil consumed in America,” it is also in “midst of a very critical political transition: the state and national elections, scheduled for April 14 and 21 of this year, will either make or break the country.” And particularly worrying, the article notes, are the links, ideological and otherwise, between the “Taliban” and other likeminded groups and one of the three leading presidential candidates, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who in the past has endorsed an Islamist agenda.

Dr. Pham concludes: “While one should be careful not to exaggerate the strength of the Nigeria’s ‘Taliban’—in fact, that the State Security Service and other government agencies, acting in collaboration with Nigeria’s allies, have managed to arrest Damagun and company is welcome news—neither should one ignore the potential threat posed by the group, others like it, and their fellow travelers.” In either case, “beyond this spring’s elections, with all its attendant challenges, Nigeria faces a very bumpy road ahead.”

o read Dr. Pham’s article, “The Return of the ‘Nigerian Taliban,’” click here