Islamist extremists freely moving between Nigeria, Mali: US

Islamist extremists continue to move freely between Nigeria and Mali, despite the ongoing French military operation against them, the US ambassador to Nigeria said.

Updated: Mar 14, 2013, 23:36 PM IST

Lagos (Nigeria): Islamist extremists continue to move freely between Nigeria and northern Mali, despite the ongoing French military operation there against them, the United States ambassador to Nigeria said on Thursday.

As extremist shootings, bombings and kidnappings of foreigners continue across northern Nigeria, US Ambassador Terence McCulley said halting the violence remained a top priority of the Washington government.

However, McCulley declined to answer questions about US plans to operate a drone base in neighbouring Niger, which would allow the aircraft to monitor Nigeria as well.

Officials "have seen reports for years" about fighters from the radical Islamic extremist network Boko Haram travelling to Mali to receive training there, said McCulley, speaking to journalists on a telephone conference call.

Boko Haram, the main force behind the continuing guerrilla attacks against Nigeria`s weak central government, is believed by analysts and officials to have ties with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in Mali, and likely received training and weapons from them.

French troops, with the help of Malian soldiers, have been fighting Islamic extremists who took over the main towns in northern Mali in the weeks after a coup toppled the nation`s government last year.

Despite their efforts, it appears extremists continue to be able to simply disappear into local populations and move freely across the region, where desert borders remain loosely patrolled.

In part to stop that flow, US President Barack Obama announced plans in February to establish a military base in neighbouring Niger to stage drone flights across the Sahel region.

While US plans initially call for the drones to be used to gather information about Islamic extremists in Mali, the drones could be used elsewhere in the region.

When asked about the drones, McCulley largely declined to comment, though he said Nigeria`s government has not posed any questions to the US regarding the drone programme.

PTI