From Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Raffaello Pantucci is an associate fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming "We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen" (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
After an explosive festive season that spilled into the New Year and growing stories of increased connections to other regional networks, Nigerian group Boko Haram is likely to be one of the main focuses of attention for counter terrorism experts in this coming year.
While definitively predicting whether it is going to metastasize into a global threat, or remain a regional one, is something dependent on many variable factors, some lessons from other regional violent Islamist networks can be drawn to understand better the general direction Boko Haram is going in.
Three groups are particularly useful to look at: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, al Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). All three are groups that have a clear globalist violent Islamist rhetoric and varying degrees of connectivity with al Qaeda core in Pakistan. FULL POST
By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
Two weeks ago, dozens of armed men descended on a town in northern Nigeria and killed more than 100 people in a coordinated series of bombings and gun attacks.
Many of those targeted were Christians, but police stations and mosques deemed "insufficiently Islamic" were also attacked.
The town was Damataru, capital of the Nigerian state of Yobe, and the assailants belonged to the group Boko Haram, which translates from the local Hausa as "Western education is outlawed."
In two years, Boko Haram has morphed from a radical Muslim sect into an insurgency responsible for dozens of attacks in Nigeria and beyond. Western intelligence analysts believe it is also developing links with al Qaeda affiliates in Africa.
Boko Haram's targets include police outposts and churches, as well as places associated with 'western influence.' Its signature attack is a Karachi-style drive-by shooting from a motorbike, but this year it has begun a campaign of suicide vehicle attacks.
In Maiduguri, the epicenter of the insurgency, there is a heavy military presence, with security checkpoints, sandbagged military positions and the scars left by bomb attacks.
House-to-house searches are common. A senior military officer admitted last week that Maiduguri was a dangerous place, with "miscreants" slipping across the nearby borders with Chad and Niger. The Nigerian authorities seem unable to overcome Boko Haram - and its growing footprint worries neighboring states and the U.S. Africa Command.
Many Christians in northeastern Nigeria have fled their homes as the violence has worsened this year. FULL POST
By Paul Cruickshank, CNN Terrorism Analyst
The trial of "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was cut dramatically short Wednesday when the Nigerian pleaded guilty to all the counts against him.
While the prosecution's opening statement contained significant new detail about the Christmas Day 2009 plot to blow up an airliner approaching Detroit - mainly from AbdulMutallab's initial 45-50 minute, tell-all interview with FBI agents at the hospital where he was treated after the attack - the short duration of the trial also left many questions unanswered, most notably the role played in the plot by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni militant cleric killed in a drone strike last month.
After his death, senior Obama administration officials emphasized al-Awlaki's operational role within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, labeling him the head of the group's external operations and stating he played a lead role in planning and directing the "underwear bomber" plot.
U.S officials had already warned about his growing role in terrorist planning earlier in the year. "Let me underscore, Awlaki is no mere messenger but someone integrally involved in lethal terrorist activities," State Department counterterrorism coordinator Dan Benjamin warned in April. FULL POST
The trial of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab started on Tuesday in Detroit. Even on day one, much was learned about the havoc in the plane as the suspect, now widely referred as the 'underwear bomber,' tried to light the explosives hidden in his pants. ( CNN's Deobrah Feyerick wraps the first day of the case.)
Day one of the testimony was not without its slightly humorous elements. The first witness described how AbdulMutallab's pants "resembled something I hadn't seen before."
"They were bulky, they reminded me of my son's Pull-Ups when he was little. I assume they looked like adult Pampers. I don't know what they were, but they were bulky and burning," said Michael Zantow, who was sitting a row behind AbdulMuttallab on the plane.
As for the question of what do you say when a fellow passenger's pants are ignited, the answer is a simple "hey dude, your pants are on fire." That's what passengers yelled out, according to Zantow.
CNN Senior Producer Laura Dolan is at the court and provided this breakdown of the jury hearing the case: FULL POST
By CNN's Deborah Feyerick reporting from Detroit, MI
To those who knew him before he became known as the "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was a quiet, religious man. So how did the son of a prominent Nigerian banker with a graduate degree in engineering allegedly decide to wage holy war?
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday gave a 90-minute opening statement in the trial of AbdulMutallab, outlining a path that they say led to Christmas Day 2009 incident aboard a Detroit-bound airliner, which he is accused of trying to blow up with a device concealed in his underwear.
He was indicted on charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, and possession of a firearm or destructive device in furtherance of an act of violence.
Inspired by jihadist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, the now 24-year-old student set off for Yemen in the summer of 2009, allegedly telling FBI agents he wanted to find al Qaeda and "become involved in violent jihad against the U.S." Once there, prosecutors say, he was recruited in a mosque by a man calling himself Abu Tarak. Together the men would talk daily, prosecutors say, about "jihad, martyrdom, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden." FULL POST
By Sr. National Security Producer Pam Benson
A deadly bombing in Abuja has launched a little-known Islamic extremist group onto the terrorism radar, raising U.S. officials' concern about the spread of the influence of al Qaeda.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack at a U.N. facility in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, that killed 23 people last month.
It was a departure from the group's recent campaign of assassinations and bombings aimed at government targets. The group's stated goal is the implementation of a strict form of Islamic law - sharia - in the predominantly Muslim states of Northern Nigeria.
Now some U.S. military officials are looking at the car bombing as a possible new calling card.
"We're seeing some degree of cross-pollination" between al Qaeda affiliates, said one of two U.S. defense officials who recently briefed reporters at the Pentagon. "When you see a group like Boko Haram, which is focused internally, use a car bomb the way they did, it's a capability they clearly got from (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)." Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, commonly referred to as AQIM, is based in North Africa.
Officials also point to statements made by the group indicating some of its people were trained in Somalia, where the terrorist group al-Shabaab operates. One of the suspects in the U.N. attack had reportedly been in Somalia.
Although the attack against the United Nations is the first time Boko Haram has hit a Western target, U.S. officials are worried the group could be aided by al Qaeda in a quest to threaten other Western interests in Nigeria and beyond.
Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, recently told reporters that there is evidence that Boko Haram, AQIM and al-Shabaab are trying to form an alliance to coordinate attacks against the West. FULL POST