After 9/11, African anti-terror laws grew, abused

After a Nigerian attempted to blow up a US jetliner and a homegrown terror group bombed and killed at will, Nigeria has passed a sweeping anti-terrorism bill.

Last Updated: Sep 04, 2011, 00:51 AM IST

Lagos: After a Nigerian attempted to
blow up a US jetliner and a homegrown terror group bombed and
killed at will, Nigeria has passed a sweeping anti-terrorism
bill.

The law in Africa`s most populous nation gives its
President the power to declare any group a terrorist
organisation and imprison convicted members for as long as 20
years.

Those who supply "moral assistance" can face 10 years,
and warrant less searches are allowed.

After the 9/11 attacks, countries across Africa passed
new anti-terrorism bills, as threats from al Qaeda-inspired
groups increased.

However, vast lands and weak law enforcement continue to
hinder countries` abilities to fight back and some leaders use
loosely worded laws to harass their opponents.

There`s "a worrying trend in sub-Saharan Africa in recent
years, and that`s the growing tendency of governments to pass
sweeping anti-terrorism laws and then to use them not only in
legitimate efforts to arrest and prosecute terrorism suspects,
but often as a weapon against regime opponents in general,"
said Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa programme
at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International
Studies.

In Nigeria, home to 150 million people, terrorism takes
many forms. In its oil-rich southern delta, militant groups
bomb oil pipelines and kidnap foreign workers.

And in 2009, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a
flight out of Lagos on his way to attempt to bring down a
Detroit-bound airliner, allegedly on behalf of an al Qaeda
cell in Yemen.

Nigeria has seen an increase in attacks carried out by a
radical Muslim sect known locally as Boko Haram, which wants
strict Shariah law across the country.

US officials fear the group has ties to two
al Qaeda-aligned terror groups already operating in Africa.
The US pushed Nigeria to pass its counter terrorism bill.

But it grants wide-ranging powers to police officers who
routinely demand bribes from motorists, make arrests to shake
down citizens and often kill suspects in custody.

"We already have concerns with extra judicial killings
and unlawful conduct," said Olawale Fapohunda, a human rights
lawyer based in Lagos who worries the new powers will, in
effect, legalise police criminality.

Burkina Faso, Niger and South Africa all have passed
anti-terror laws in the last decade.

South Africa adopted new terrorism legislation in 2004,
replacing laws dating back to the apartheid era.

PTI