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Inside Boko Haram’s ‘Bomb Factories’



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Bombs discovered in Kano

From Maiduguri to Kano, Kaduna to Damaturu, explosive mishaps are happening at Boko Haram ‘bomb factories’. Weekly Trust, speaking to insiders, gives you the story.

On Saturday 17th and Monday 19th December, 2011, members of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram, experienced major setbacks which many within security circles predicted would happen. Two of their bomb-making locations in Maiduguri and Damaturu claimed at least four members believed to be experts in assembling Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In Kaduna, a two-bedroom apartment believed to be used by the sect exploded, killing two-year-old Lois Obajemu (See sidebar on Page 3) on the same day the Damaturu ‘bomb factory’ explosion occurred. The sect also lost another base when the Kano State Police Command in what it referred to as a ‘major breakthrough’ raided a hideout.

Maiduguri and Damaturu have notoriously become the epicenter of violence since the re-grouping of members of the sect in 2010 after the July 2009 incident which led to killing of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf and about 900other people including sect members and security operatives. The sect’s leadership agreed that its members were touched by the development but said it will in no way affect its operation. “It’s a temporary setback,” Abul-Qaqa, the spokesman of the group, said. “We believe Allah is testing our Iman (faith). Undoubtedly, we are strengthened by what happened. We are not afraid of death and absolutely nothing will stop us against waging war on the Nigerian state and its establishments,” he added.

Qaqa said the ultimate goal of his group was to ensure the abolition and replacement of the Nigerian Constitution with the laws enshrined in the Holy Qur’an as well as abrogation of democracy. “Some people may think that we would retreat or surrender because our factories have exploded. We will not and we will prove to the world that we are still capable.”

But observers are pondering how bomb factories thrive in the two cities and under the watchful eyes of security operatives. In Shuwari, a quiet suburb of Maiduguri, where the bomb factory exploded last Sunday, it was the sound of the blast that attracted the attention of the Joint Task Force (JTF).  Shuwari is dotted with old walls and uncompleted buildings which serve as home to goats and sheep. That notwithstanding, the settlement, despite its rural appearance, attracts some affluent individuals whose mansions are part of the landscape.

As Weekly Trust drove through the un-tarred and sandy terrain, residents looked with suspicious eyes and when asked for directions, they would decline to help. Eventually, a resident pointed at a steep slope which initially seemed inaccessible. He said the ‘bomb factory’ was located just little down the slope, but it proved inaccurate. A few more questions to a number of skeptical residents eventually led to an old building surrounded by a newly-plastered fence with wide-open gates. A blast appeared to have damaged the back section of the house but leaving the frontage intact. Spokesman of the JTF, Lieutenant-Colonel Hassan Ifijeh Mohammed, said the house was used as a major depot for the production of IEDs. “We recovered the mutilated bodies of three suspects who were killed in the process of making an IED for deployment,” he said.

Explosive items which the JTF said they recovered from the scene of the blast include three big drums filled with factory-made explosives, large quantity of unused explosive materials, three AK 47 rifles, timers, a laptop computer and other items used in making explosives.

A resident of the area told Weekly Trust that the house was renovated and rented by some unknown individuals about three months ago. “I have never known any of the occupants or their activities but there were signs that people are living there. The gate of the house is always closed, not only during the day but also at night. This is just what I noticed until the blast,” he said. Another resident of the area said in the last few months, the area played host to many strange faces.

Other residents of the sparsely populated settlement said they had never experienced any blast. It was however gathered that an Islamic scholar who lives in Bolori area of the metropolis was picked by security agents for questioning. “He was actually the original owner of the house but sold it out long ago. The house had passed through at least two more landlords before the current occupants took over. So when authorities realized that, the cleric was released,” an insider said.

Unlike in Maiduguri, the house which served as a ‘bomb factory’ is located in the heart of Damaturu, Yobe’s capital, a few metres away from the palace of the Emir of Damaturu, Alhaji Shehu Hashimi Ibn Umar El-Kanemi. Popularly known as ‘Gidan Gwaiba’ (Hausa for Guava House), the bomb factory was in the midst of a cluster of houses belonging to civil servants, teachers and businessmen. “This is the most difficult aspect of the situation because going by the recent discoveries, it appears the sect members are part and parcel of the larger population,” Dr. Mohammed Bashir, a sociologist, told Weekly Trust.

Yobe State Police commissioner, Lawal Tanko, said his men mobilized to the scene around 12 noon on that fateful day. “One of the suspects, simply identified as Abdullahi Bana, sustained serious injuries and died in the hospital while two others fled with injuries.” Tanko said many dangerous items were items recovered at the bomb-making hideout.

A police source told Weekly Trust that it is only experts that have knowledge of engineering and better understanding of chemistry that can make bombs. “The bomb-makers use things that are use for domestic purposes.” He added: “When we searched the factory, we saw handsets ostensibly being transformed into remote controls. We also saw carts heavily loaded with explosives. Basically, we know that carts are used by water vendors.” He said that the explosive that destroyed the factory in Damaturu was small, “About the size of an insecticide aerosol, but look at the magnitude of the blast, destroying the entire roof.”

Like those of Borno and Yobe, the explosives uncovered by security operatives at the sect’s ‘bomb factory’ in Kaduna were not conventional, a security source disclosed to Weekly Trust. According to him, the explosives were made with the help of some welders and not in well-established factories as speculated. “They fabricate casings or in some cases they use car oil filters, groundnut oil tins, in which they’ll put in the explosive substances and a charge,” he explained. “[Boko Haram] has been making efforts to get sophisticated explosives but they have not been successful so far,” he added, noting that the sect members were in the process of mixing explosive materials before the explosion occurred last Monday.

Kaduna State’s police spokesman, Aminu Lawal, also said the explosives were locally made. “Our bomb squad has tested the one that exploded and the ones that did not. The improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are locally made.”

Some residents of Angwan Magaji, Malakali Area of Mando, where the explosion took place, said that the occupants of the two-bedroom flat used for making explosives were living with women and have people who visit them from time to time. Shittu Ibrahim, a neighbor, said: “We even pray in the same mosque. No one could suspect foul-play.”

Another resident, Idris Mohammed, who said he normally parks his car near the ‘bomb factory,’ said he feels lucky that the incident happened when he was away at work. “None of us suspected anything,” he said.

In Kano, police uncovered another ‘bomb factory’ including arms, chemical and deactivated IEDs, following a tip-off. Kano Police Commissioner, Mr. Ibrahim Idris told Weekly Trust that fourteen members of the sect were detained, four killed, while three police officers died from gunshots during the operation at Darmanawa Quarters, Ungwan Uku. Idris said his men recovered three vehicles, four AK-47s and shot guns, as well as nine magazines and 1,125 live ammunitions of different calibers. The arms were found in a black Honda Accord sedan with Lagos tag no: FF 479 APP.

“One of the recovered vehicles was laden with explosives, meant for an attack,” Idris said, telling Weekly Trust how a raid of the residence of one Mohammed Ali at Darnamawa Quarters led to the discovery the car chock-full of petrol and 50 kg cylinders, well-prepared for an obvious suicide mission. “We appreciate the concern shown by members of various communities by giving us information and showing visible anger at the attacks,” Idris stated.

A Kaduna resident, visibly peeved, asked: “What have the citizens of Kaduna done to deserve Boko Haram’s attention?” His companion shrugged, saying: “It’s all too complex for me to understand, too.”

Daily Trust – December 24, 2011

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