LAGOS, Nigeria — Extremists from three neighboring countries are fighting in Nigeria's northeastern Islamic uprising, according to an alleged captured extremist whose account reinforces fears that one of Africa's most powerful Islamic militant groups is growing closer to al-Qaida affiliates.
"We do have members from Chad, Niger and Cameroon who actively participate in most of our attacks," said a young man presented to journalists Friday night by Nigeria's military as a captured fighter of the Boko Haram terrorist network.
The claim of foreign fighters indicates the growing influence of Boko Haram, which seeks to force Nigeria — Africa's largest oil producer and a country of 160 million that has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims — to become an Islamic state.
President Goodluck Jonathan's government, which is struggling to control the Islamic rebellion, for the first time presented an alleged Boko Haram fighter, a 22-year-old walking on crutches because of a bullet wound suffered when he was captured in a recent attack.
The young man refused to give his name, for fear that his family would be targeted. His account sheds new light on life inside the shadowy Boko Haram, which means "western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language.
Last week, Justice Minister Mohammed Adoke charged that Boko Haram is being influenced from abroad. Adoke did not give details. Boko Haram fighters, including current leader Abubakar Shekau, were reported fighting alongside al-Qaida affiliated groups that seized northern Mali last year.