On Sunday, March 10, the "likely" death of seven construction workers of different nationalities was announced by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. In what was described as "an unforgivable act of pure cold-blooded murder," the Nigerian Muslim militant group Jama'atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan (better known as Ansaru) killed the largest amount of foreign workers by an Islamist group in Nigeria during this latest deterioration of order. While the mass execution was blamed on a since-denied rescue operation by British and Nigerian forces, it is likely that it was designed as an attempt to draw international attention to their conflict.
Ansaru, whose name translates to "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa," is believed to be a splinter of a larger Islamist group called Boko Haram. The February 16 attack on the construction workers, employees of Lebanese company Setraco, is believed to be their their first since they declared their independence from the larger organization. The group has a long history, however, having been suspected of the abduction of British, Italian and French hostages last year, as well as an attack on a police station in Abuja, leading to its classification by the UK government as a terrorist organisation.
The larger group, Boko Haram, or "Western Education is a Sin," have been held responsible for much of the current violence in the nation. Believed to have caused at least 792 deaths last year, and over 1,500 since their uprising in 2009, Boko Haram have made demands that have "repeatedly shifted," although the creation of a “pure” Islamic state in Northern Nigeria, free of "corrupt, false Muslims" has been a cornerstone of these stipulations. Typically, the group has taken to attacking and destroying churches and schools, and has become involved in the Jos crisis, which has seen them attack Christians in the north of the country in order to force relocation.
While Boko Haram and Ansaru originate from the same source, their methods and aims diverge somewhat. As mentioned, Boko Haram have focused on pursuing "a mostly domestic agenda" in order to achieve their goal of transforming the north of the country. The United States Institute for Peace predicts that they will "continue to attack softer targets in the northeast rather than international targets inside or outside Nigeria." Ansaru, on the other hand, have seemingly taken a path that specifically targets citizens of foreign nations. According to the splinter group, the rationale for this latest incident was gaining retribution for "atrocities by European nations against Islam." By targeting foreign nationals, they appear to be attempting to desire the involvement of foreign, particularly Western governments, in this once self-contained crisis.
While hostage taking is sadly not a new concept in the region, it would appear that the recent kidnappings form part of a larger problem. While Ansaru continue to operate in this manner, it is likely that foreign nationals will become embroiled in this now global conflict.