Senegalese authorities have made a number of arrests as part of a sweeping offensive against people suspected to have links with the extremist Boko Haram sect, which has for years wreaked havoc in Nigeria and its northern neighbours.
A number of suspects were picked up in and around Dakar, the Senegalese capital, in the past two weeks as part of the Senegalese government’s drive to crack down on some suspected collaborators of the extremist sect in the Muslim-dominated West African country known for its peace and democratic culture.
Two women were arrested in Guidiawaye, a suburb of Dakar, on suspicion of links to the group.
Officials say the women popped up on the radar of security agencies and were afterwards placed under surveillance after authorities intercepted their communication with a suspected Boko Haram fighter in Nigeria, who was confirmed to be the husband of one suspect and brother to the other.
Security forces also reported uncovering a consistent number of money transfers between the suspects and their alleged Boko Haram fighter relative for months.
After their arrest, a search was conducted on their home and a cash of 500 million CFA Francs was found in their possession, authorities say.
“The fact that such an amount was in their possession instead of being in the bank further goes to confirm ties with the alleged Boko Haram fighter,” a security source said.
Also this month, two Imams were arrested outside Dakar.
One of them was arrested in Ziguinchor, the regional headquarters ofSouthern Senegal, an area known for its over 30 years of secessionist wars with the Senegalese government.
In Kaolack, another suburban city hundreds of kilometers outside Dakar, an Imam was arrested.
The town is popular for being a base of the Tijanniya Brotherhood, and home of the renowned Islamic scholar, Sheik Ablaye Niass.
Authorities say the Imam, Alioune Ndao, had been under security radar for months as a result of his suspected links with Boko Haram.
“His sermons have been strangely inclined towards “instigating” his congregation towards BH ideologies,” the security source said.
Following his arrest, two satellite phones were found in his possession.
Security insiders said a scrutiny of the call histories of the phones showed consistent communications with suspected members of the Boko Haram sect.
In the capital city of Dakar itself, a young man was arrested for alleged links with the terrorist group.
Security operatives say their investigations revealed he was a next of kin to a confirmed Boko Haram fighter in Nigeria.
“He has also been receiving a lot of money transfers from Nigeria after the death of his brother who was fighting for the group,” one of the security sources said.
Investigating judge Samba Sall, who presided over a hearing of the suspects, charged with criminal conspiracy, money laundering and financing terrorism, said the arrests were made following investigations by the security forces which suggested contacts with the Boko Haram group.
Besides its democratic culture in the past decades, Senegal is also known for its religious tolerance, despite the spread of various traditional Islamic brotherhoods and sects across the country.
Four Islamic sects, the Qadiri, the Tijanniya, the Mouride and the Layenne dominate religious and political life in Senegal, whose population is 95 percent Muslim.
A report by the Institute of Security Studies, an African think tank, in 2013 said Senegal is becoming more vulnerable to the region’s spread of extremism.
The Senegalese President, Macky Sall, told a peace and security conference in Dakar on Monday that terrorists should not be allowed to “impose another form of religion” that does not “correspond to our traditions or our conceptions of Islam”.
Mr. Sall told the conference that brought together about 800 security officials and analysts from across the region to the Senegalese capital to develop a coordinated response to mounting jihadist threats facing the country.
He said Senegal must develop “a philosophical and theological discourse, training imams with a sense of a tolerant Islam”.
Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, African Union special envoy in the fight against terrorism, said at the conference in Dakar, “I think the main characteristic of the threat today is that this is a threat that knows no boundaries.”