Financiers, Arms Traffickers and Kidnappings in Cameroon
by Jacob Zenn
When Boko Haram was an above ground movement before 2009, it had wealthy members who served as intermediaries between financial sponsors, such as local government officials or wealthy Salafists abroad, and Muhammad Yusuf. Now officials have distanced themselves from Boko Haram, while mainstream Salafist and al-Qa`ida funding decreased as a result of Boko Haram’s massacres, the break-up of Ansaru’s shura in Kaduna in 2012, and the French-led military intervention in northern Mali in 2013, which disrupted the AQIM supply line to Boko Haram. However, Boko Haram has made inroads with new financiers, who are from Borno and bordering areas of Cameroon’s Extreme North Region and are often ethnic Kanuris like Yusuf, Shekau and most Boko Haram members. These financiers provide Boko Haram with weapons and a route to negotiation with the Cameroonian government in kidnapping-for-ransom operations.
One Cameroonian financier, Alhaji Abdalla, is a vehicle exporter based in Amchide whose business operations extend to Qatar (the vehicles likely move from Doha to other ports in Asia). He served as a key negotiator for Boko Haram in talks with the Cameroonian government for the release of the French Moulin-Fournier family of seven, which was kidnapped by Boko Haram (likely in coordination with Ansaru) in Waza (a town 16 miles east of Amchide) in February 2013. The government paid a $3.14 million ransom and released Boko Haram prisoners in April 2013 in exchange for the family.
In July 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped from Kolofata (a town three miles from Amchide) the town’s lamido (local ruler) and his family and the wife of Cameroon Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali, who represented the Cameroon side in negotiations for the Moulin-Fourniers and ran programs to prevent recruitment of Cameroonian youths to Boko Haram (Amadou Ali was outside of Kolofata so he avoided being kidnapped). The kidnapping was reportedly motivated in part by Cameroon’s failure to pay the full ransom for the Moulin-Fourniers.
In October 2014, however, Boko Haram released the wife of Amadou Ali and the lamido and his family, along with 10 Chinese engineers who were kidnapped in April 2014 from Waza, after the Cameroonian government paid approximately $600,000 in ransom to cover the remaining payment for the Moulin-Fourniers. In addition, Cameroon released 30 prisoners, including some who were imprisoned in Maroua in July 2014 after being caught stockpiling weapons in the town of Kousseri on Cameroon’s border with Chad. Others released from prison included a leading Boko Haram recruiter, the mastermind of a kidnapping of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun in a town north of Maroua in June 2014, and the top Cameroonian Boko Haram commander, Abakar Ali. Abakar Ali had been arrested in September 2014 in Kousseri and revealed under interrogation that he coordinated arms trafficking with the mayor of Fotokol (a town on Cameroon’s border with Nigeria at Gambarou-Ngala), who was subsequently arrested with stockpiles of weapons at his residence. Cameroon also reportedly returned to Boko Haram some of the weapons and ammunition it confiscated from Boko Haram in Kousseri.
The pattern of Boko Haram kidnappings of foreigners in exchange for ransoms and the release of weapons traffickers occurred in several other instances. When Boko Haram kidnapped a French priest in “coordination” with Ansaru in November 2013 from a town 16 miles south of Amchide, the militants released him weeks later for a multi-million dollar ransom and a Kanuri weapons trafficker. Boko Haram also released the two Italian priests and Canadian nun after several weeks in captivity in June 2014 in another prisoner exchange and ransom deal.
The tie between arms traffickers and Boko Haram commanders was also highlighted in key arrests in Cameroon. One Chadian weapons trafficker was arrested in Waza in June 2014 working on behalf of a Maroua-based Boko Haram commander and possessed $15,000 from deals that he made in Chad. Days before his arrest, Cameroon uncovered weapons stockpiles in Maroua’s central market. In addition, in June 2014, Cameroon discovered travel documents from Libya (Africa’s largest arms market since 2011) and Qatar and receipts from car exports to Qatar in a Boko Haram camp, which suggests a possible link to Alhaji Abdalla, who was Boko Haram’s negotiator in the Moulin-Fournier and other kidnappings.
Across the border in Nigeria, one of the financiers of the Chibok kidnapping and a plotter of the assassination of the amir of Gwoza was a Kanuri named Babaji Yaari, who runs a lucrative cart taxi business. He coordinated the Chibok kidnapping with the leader of Boko Haram’s female wing, Hafsat Bako, who was discussed above. Bako was arrested based on the Nigerian security force’s interrogation of Yaari. The transfer of many of the schoolgirls to Cameroon and Chad after the kidnapping suggests that Bako’s and Yaari’s network and the network of kidnappers, financiers, and arms traffickers in Cameroon likely overlap.
This article reveals several new trends in the Boko Haram insurgency. First,…read full: https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-haram-recruitment-financing-and-arms-trafficking-in-the-lake-chad-region