Boko Haram has ample funds, highly sophisticated weaponry and advanced training with some of the world’s most-experienced terrorists, the French president said Saturday as he and African leaders grappled with how to combat the Islamic extremist group whose reach extends to five countries.
Hours after two more attacks in Boko Haram strongholds — one in Nigeria that left a village torched and 40 people dead and another in Cameroon — the leaders agreed to improve policing of frontiers, share intelligence and trace the weapons and cash that are the group’s lifeblood.
At the summit in Paris intended to hammer out a plan to find and free 276 schoolgirls being held hostage by Boko Haram, intelligence officials from the U.S., Europe and Africa shared information while heads of state and top diplomats tackled policy.
“This group is armed with heavy weapons of an unimaginable sophistication and the ability to use them,” said French President Francois Hollande.
He said the weapons came from chaotic Libya, and the training took place in Mali before the ouster of its al-Qaida linked Islamist leaders. As for the money, Hollande said its origins were murky.
“Boko Haram is acting clearly as an al-Qaida operation,” said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who had only reluctantly accepted outside help after years of insisting the group was a local problem.
Cameroon, which French officials said until recently also treated Boko Haram as a purely Nigerian issue, has become increasingly involved. The attack late Friday against a Chinese engineering firm’s camp left at least 10 people missing and one person dead. China is a major investor in the region, helping build infrastructure, public-health projects and sports facilities and importing crude oil, timber and cotton.
The camp was in the same nearly trackless parkland where the girls were spirited away after an attack on their school in northern Nigeria, highlighting Boko Haram’s ability to cross borders unimpeded.
An intelligence cell involving French, British and American agents already is operating out of Nigeria, but Boko Haram seemingly has continued to strike unimpeded.
Suspected Islamic militants attacked another northeast village before dawn Saturday, killing about 40 people and burning all the huts as well as three vehicles, according to a member of a vigilante group that went to the village, Dalwa-Masuba, about 50 miles southwest of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. He spoke on condition of anonymity because his group, one of many vigilante organizations set up to fight Boko Haram, does not permit members to talk to reporters.
Hollande also emphasized that Boko Haram had clearly established ties with other terror groups in Africa, making it a concern throughout the continent and beyond.
That could provide an opening for U.N. sanctions against the group to freeze its assets and impose travel bans against members.