U.S. Can't Track Boko Haram's Funding

AllAfrica |

-20 feared killed, as explosion rocks Borno market

By Temidayo Akinsuyi (with Agency reports) and Sunny Nwankwo (Maiduguri) The insurgent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, has succeeded in thwarting efforts of the United States and Nigeria to track its source of funding, some U.S. officials have said.

When Washington imposed sanctions in June 2012 on its leader, Abubakar Shekau, he dismissed it as an empty gesture.

Two years later, Shekau's scepticism appears well founded.

The terrorist group is now the biggest security threat to Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer.

Shekau is said to be richer than ever, more violent and Boko Haram's abductions of women and children continue with impunity.

As the United States, Nigeria and others struggle to track and choke off its funding, Reuters news agency interviewed more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials who closely follow Boko Haram.

Reuters said the interviews with the officials provide the most complete picture to date of how the group finances its activities.

Central to the group's approach includes using hard-to-track human couriers to move cash, relying on local funding sources and engaging in only limited financial relationships with other extremists groups.

The report also said it also has reaped millions from high-profile kidnappings.

"Our suspicions are that they are surviving on very lucrative criminal activities that involve kidnappings," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in an interview.

Until now, U.S. officials have declined to discuss Boko Haram's financing in detail.

The United States has stepped up cooperation with Nigeria to gather intelligence on Boko Haram.

The group's militants are killing civilians almost daily in North East states of Borno, Amadawa and Yobe, their stronghold.

But the lack of international financial ties to the group limit the measures the United States can use to undermine it, such as financial sanctions, Reuters added.

The U.S. Treasury normally relies on a range of measures to track financial transactions of terrorist groups, but Boko Haram appears to operate largely outside the banking system.

To fund its network, Boko Haram uses primarily a system of couriers to move cash around inside Nigeria and across the porous borders from neighbouring African states, according to the officials interviewed by Reuters.

In designating Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation last year, the Obama administration characterised the group as a violent extremist organisation with links to al Qaeda.

The Treasury Department said in a statement to Reuters that the United States has seen evidence that Boko Haram has received financial support from al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), an offshoot of the jihadist group founded by Osama bin Laden.

But that support is limited, the report added.

Officials with deep knowledge of Boko Haram's finances said any links with al Qaeda or its affiliates are inconsequential to Boko Haram's overall funding.

"Any financial support AQIM might still be providing Boko Haram would pale in comparison to the resources it gets from criminal activities," said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Assessments differ, but one U.S. estimate of financial transfers from AQIM was in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That compares with the millions of dollars that Boko Haram was estimated to make through its kidnap and ransom operations.

"Ransoms appear to be the main source of funding for Boko Haram's five-year-old Islamist insurgency in Nigeria, whose 170 million people are split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims", said the U.S. officials.

In February last year, armed men on motorcycles snatched Frenchman Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, his wife and four children, and his brother while they were on holiday near the Waza National Park in Cameroon, close to the Nigerian border.

Boko Haram was paid an equivalent of about $3.15 million by French and Cameroonian negotiators before the hostages were released, according to a confidential Nigerian government report later obtained by Reuters.

Figures vary on how much Boko Haram earns from kidnappings.

Some U.S. officials estimate the group is paid as much as $1 million for the release of each abducted wealthy Nigerian.

Current and former U.S. and Nigerian officials say Boko Haram's operations do not require significant amounts of money, which means even successful operations tracking and intercepting their funds are unlikely to disrupt their campaign, Reuters added.

Boko Haram had developed "a very diversified and resilient model of supporting itself", Peter Pham, a Nigeria scholar at the Atlantic Council think-tank in Washington, said.

"It can essentially 'live off the land' with very modest additional resources required," he told a congressional hearing on June 11.

"We're not talking about a group that is buying sophisticated weapons of the sort that some of the jihadist groups in Syria and other places are using.

"We're talking of AK-47s, a few rocket-propelled grenades, and bomb-making materials. It is a very low-cost operation," Pham told Reuters.

That includes paying local youth just peanuts a day to track and report on Nigerian troop movements.

Much of Boko Haram's military hardware was not bought, it was stolen from the Nigerian Army, the report said.

Boko Haram's inner leadership is security savvy, not only in the way it moves money but also in its communications, relying on face-to-face contact, since messages or calls can be intercepted, current and former U.S. officials told Reuters.

"They're quite sophisticated in terms of shielding all of these activities from legitimate law enforcement officials in Africa and certainly our own intelligence efforts trying to get glimpses and insight into what they do," a former U.S. military official said.

U.S. officials acknowledged that the weapons that have served Washington so well in its financial warfare against other terrorist groups are proving less effective against Boko Haram.

"My sense is that we have applied the tools that we do have but they are not particularly well tailored to the way that Boko Haram is financing itself," a U.S. defence official said.

Another report on Tuesday said a suicide bomber suspected to be a member of Boko Haram detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Maiduguri Monday Market near El-kanemi round about, killing over 17 people and injured 69 others.

It was gathered that the blast affected mostly petty traders and members of "Civilian JTF".

Chairman Sector Three, civilian JTF, Iliya Saidu, said the vehicle carrying the explosives broke the mirror of a 'Keke NAPEP'.

He added that when the parties were quarrelling it attracted the attention of several Civilian JTF members before the driver of the vehicle carrying IED detonated the device.

He said: "Nine of my members were killed by the blast, we were able to identify them through the vest we gave them and we have already deposited their corpses at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) and the State Specialists Hospital".

Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, who was at the scene of the blast, condemned the act, describing it as un-Islamic, barbaric and inhuman.

The Governor thanked the Civilian JTF for their gallantry and assured them that N1 million will be paid to each family of deceased members to alleviate their suffering.

President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ayo Oritsejafor, also insisted on Tuesday that the underlining factor for the Boko Haram sect is religion and plans to Islamise Nigeria and not poverty as some people were made to believe.

Also, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described religion as a power force that could easily be manipulated and should not be centre of political choices.

Both spoke at the Christians Elders Forum of Northern States (NOSCEF) National Conference 2014 in Abuja with the theme, 'Voices Against Violence'.

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