British troops are spearheading a drive to crush a chilling jihadi “exchange programme” launched by terror group Islamic State to help it spread carnage around the globe.
Islamists are taking “job swaps” from the Middle East in a scheme that runs in a belt from Somalia, Kenya and South Sudan all the way to Nigeria.
It is feared the training exchanges and the networks being built could lead to the rise of a caliphate in the region – and pose a significant security threat to the UK.
So our military is trying to stem the tide of militants by providing counter-terror training for local forces across Africa.
The Mirror joined British and Nigerian forces at training camps in Nigeria, where a senior local commander spoke of the challenge of two-way jihadi migration.
Since 2014, terrorists have murdered 20,000 civilians in Nigeria.
Roadside and suicide bombings kill as many as 50 a time, three times a week.
More than two million Nigerians are thought to have been displaced and 11 million need humanitarian aid. Kidnappings are rife.
And the UK has already been rocked by extremism linked to the nation as Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, were of Nigerian descent.
Group Captain Isaac Subi, 46, of the Nigerian Air Force, has fought terror across Africa since 1991. He said Nigeria has had “hundreds” of exchange fighters.
In the oppressive heat of Kaduna, we watched RAF Regiment soldiers teach his men how to beat an IS ambush.
Subi, whose soldiers protect airfields, warned: “They train fighters here and our insurgents get access to training in Yemen and Syria, then come back and teach others.
“When they conduct serious acts, like bombings, the news goes viral, then their sponsors think the money they give them is put to effective use. They leave trails of blood, tears and sorrow.”
The terror threat in northeast Nigeria comes from Boko Haram and splinter group Islamic State in West Africa, which has strong links with IS in the Middle East. Locally, the terror threat is referred to simply as Boko Haram.
Military experts say an alliance between ISWA and Boko Haram boosts the terror risk to the UK.
Boko Haram has abducted and killed thousands – including the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014, many of whom were raped and forced to marry jihadists. Some of the girls have been released but many are still missing.
The killings, torture and mayhem have worsened with the abduction of children as young as five being forced into suicide bomber cadres.
Subi added: “They take over villages, overrun communities and capture children, using their innocence and giving them bomb vests.
They tell them religious ideologies, ‘If you commit this suicide you will be accepted in heaven as a martyr’.”
Even the elderly are forced to blow themselves up. Subi said: “They tell them, ‘You are 70 years old – it’s better to die now and go to heaven and be married to virgins than staying here to suffer and die’.”
The MoD spends more than £8million annually on training Nigerian forces, in addition to the Department for International Development spending £100million a year on aid.
British troops were drafted in after the Chibok girls were seized and boosted an existing UK training mission in Nigeria, which now totals around 150 troops.
Royal Marines based in Lagos are also teaching the Nigerian Special Boat Service how to combat crime and piracy on the coast and on rivers.
British troop involvement in Nigeria is part of the British Military Advisory and Training Team and is aimed at helping local forces smash Boko Haram in Africa’s most prosperous and most populated country, with a £405billion-a-year economy and 180 million citizens.
Our trade with Nigeria is worth £7billion a year and 180,000 Nigerians live in Britain –while 20,000 Brits live there.
Importantly, Nigeria’s population – 44% of which is under 15 – could hit 400 million by 2050, making it the world’s third-largest behind China and India.
At our military HQ in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, Brigadier Charles Calder said Boko Haram and ISWA “respect no boundaries”.
He added: “There are also al-Qaeda and IS affiliates in the wider region exploiting a lack of governance…which if unchecked could coagulate to form some kind of caliphate that is a surrogate of IS and if unchecked could then present a threat to both UK interests and conceivably the UK mainland.”
“One of the things I find most disturbing about this place is the coercion of very young, mainly girls, into being suicide bombers.
"We are here with a very small deployment that is very sustainable, that enables us to try and increase the capacity of the Nigerian army so they can deal with their own problems.
“The British military set up the Nigerian military. The Nigerian army is fundamentally founded on British lines, British doctrine, British ways of doing business.
“We have a big, big head-start here, because we talk the same military language. The Nigerian military trust us and have a degree of respect for the British military.”
Wing Commander John Rees, 54, of 5 Force Protection Wing, commands 50 RAF Regiment trainers at Kaduna International Airport.
Since 2014, they have trained 1,470 Nigerian Airforce Regiment troops to defend airbases against terrorism, helping to stem the jihadi tide.
He said: “By 2050, one in eight people walking the surface of the earth will have a connection with Nigeria. In helping the Nigerians combat this threat, we’re in turn enhancing our own security from the migration of terrorism.”
Asked if there are fears terror could come to the UK from Nigeria as it has from Libya, where Manchester-born arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi trained, he said: “I guess there is.
“It’s exactly the same as the seepage of terrorists from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. These tactics, techniques and procedures we see in these countries often do migrate and we’ve got our own security challenge in the UK. Its a big problem.”
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