NOUAKCHOTT, Jan 24 (Reuters)- Members of the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram have received explosives training at al Qaeda camps in the Sahel region of northern Africa, Niger’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
The group, which has killed more than 200 people this year in increasingly sophisticated attacks that include bombings, may have also received training from Somalia’s al Shabaab insurgents, Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum said.
“There is no doubt that there is confirmed information that shows a link between Boko Haram and AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), and it consists primarily of the training given to elements of Boko Haram,” Bazoum said at a regional security summit in Mauritania’s capital.
“One group has been received in AQIM bases here in the Sahel and another group got training, based on information we’ve gotten, with the Shabaabs in Somalia,” he said.
Security analysts have said Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language spoken in northern Nigeria, is unlikely to expand its focus beyond Nigeria, and has only limited ties to other insurgent groups.
But Bazoum said the evidence of training links between al Qaeda’s North African wing and Boko Haram required a unified regional security approach to combat the threat.
“Some of the bombers in Nigeria received training here in the Sahel. That’s why it seems important that we are with Nigeria and act together and share information,” he said.
Nigeria was represented at the summit alongside Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Algeria — parts of Africa where al Qaeda cells are known to operate. Nine western hostages are believed to be held by al Qaeda in the Sahara.
Boko Haram is loosely modelled on Afghanistan’s Taliban. It has claimed responsibility for bombing churches, police stations, military facilities, banks and beer parlours in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria.
The sect focuses its attacks mostly on the police, military and government but has also increased attacks on Christian institutions. It says it is fighting enemies who have wronged its members through violence, arrests, economic neglect and corruption.
Bomb attacks and gun battles in Nigeria’s second largest city, Kano, killed 186 people on Jan. 20, in Boko Haram’s most deadly attack to date. Gunfire was heard in Kano early on Tuesday, witnesses said.
In July 2009 the sect launched an uprising in the northeast in which more than 800 people were killed in five days of fighting with security forces. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis Editing by Maria Golovnina)