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West African leaders on Saturday agreed to work together to wage “total war” on Boko Haram saying the Nigerian Islamist group had become a regional al Qaeda that threatened all of them.
Nigeria’s neighbours Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin, and Western officials, met in Paris to flesh out a plan enabling them for the first time to share intelligence, coordinate action and monitor borders.
Although Boko Haram has been fighting for five years, carrying out bombings and attacks on civilians and the security forces, the kidnapping last month of more than 200 girls from a school in the northeast has focused world attention on them.
“Boko Haram is no longer a local terrorist group, it is operating clearly as an al Qaeda operation, it is an al Qaeda of West Africa,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said.
“We have shown our commitment for a regional approach. Without West African countries coming together we will not be able to crush these terrorists,” he said.
Outrage over the mass abduction has prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan — criticised at home and abroad for his government’s slow response — to accept US, British and French intelligence help.
“There is determination to tackle this situation head on ... to launch a war, a total war on Boko Haram,” Chad’s President Idriss Deby said. The countries agreed to launch coordinated patrols and rescue operations, share intelligence, put in place a mechanism to prevent weapons’ smuggling and monitor borders.
Intelligence services and army heads would also meet soon to come up with a region-wide strategy to fight terrorism.
“The threat is serious for Africa and Europe,” French President Francois Hollande added.