14 May 2014

Waging War in Nigeria, and Seeking New Battlegrounds

Explaining Boko Haram, Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency

MAY 7, 2014 

A frame from a video of a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram.Creditvia Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Boko Haram is an Islamist extremist group responsible for dozens of massacres of civilians in its five-year insurgency in Nigeria, including the brazen kidnapping last month of more than 250 schoolgirls and the abduction, reported Tuesday, of 11 more teenagers.

The kidnappings are the latest assault by the insurgent group, which has terrorized local populations and regularly engages the Nigerian military in bloody combat with the aim of destabilizing and ultimately overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamic caliphate in its place.

The State Department’s annual report on terrorism around the globe, issued last month, estimated that the group’s members ranged from “the hundreds to a few thousand.” The report warned that “the number and sophistication of BH’s attacks are concerning,” and that Boko Haram had increasingly crossed into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger to “evade pressure and conduct operations.”

In the model of many of Al Qaeda’s affiliates, Boko Haram receives the bulk of its funding from bank robberies and related criminal activities, including extortion and kidnapping for ransom, the State Department report said.

Nigerians on Boko Haram Abductions 
Nigerians on Boko Haram Abductions 

President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria vowed to find the girls kidnapped from their school in northeastern Nigeria last month, but relatives of the missing accused the government of not doing enough. 

CreditPius Utomi Ekpei/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

Founded in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 2002 by the Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram was largely contained to the northern part of the country before expanding its reach with the help of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist organization’s affiliate in West Africa.

Clashes between Muslims and Christians, common in Nigeria, radicalized the group, as did frictions with local authorities that escalated into retaliatory attacks. After the group’s founder was killed by the Nigerian police in 2009, his followers went underground, swearing vengeance.

Since then, Boko Haram has carried out a number of increasingly lethal attacks on villages, government buildings, police stations, prisons, churches and even mosques. By 2011, the heavily armed group had expanded its attacks to other parts of the country, carrying out audacious strikes in the capital, Abuja, where a car bomb detonated at the United Nations headquarters killed nearly two dozen people in August 2011.

In early 2012, Boko Haram conducted a series of attacks in Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city, killing more than 100 people, then the group’s deadliest strike. The group continued to engage in mounting battles with the Nigerian military. Earlier this year in Maiduguri, more than 500 people were killed when security forces responded to what the military portrayed as a jailbreak attempt by Boko Haram.

In its effort to overthrow the Nigerian government, Boko Haram militants have tried to violently root out Western influence by attacking schools.

“The group’s very name is a rallying cry against schools,” The New York Times’s Adam Nossiter wrote in March, 2012. Roughly translated, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.”

President Obama on Tuesday described Boko Haram as “one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations in the world.” In recent years, the United Nations and the American government have warned that the group poses an increasing menace to Western interests.

A 2011 report by the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence cited the “emerging threat” that Boko Haram posed to the United States. And a United Nations report in January 2012 cited regional officials as saying that “Boko Haram had established links with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” and that “some of its members from Nigeria and Chad had received training in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb camps in Mali during the summer of 2011.”
The leader of Nigeria’s terrorist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, said his group was fighting to reinstate a medieval Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria. 

CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images 

President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria said in 2012 that the group had global ambitions, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the military’s Africa Command, said at the time that “we have seen clear indications of collaboration among the organizations.”

The House Committee on Homeland Security noted in 2013 that “Boko Haram continues to pose a threat to both the United States and our allies” and called for the group to be classified as a foreign terrorists organization.

“For years, Boko Haram has assaulted the people of Nigeria, embraced Al Qaeda’s brand of international terror, and threatened the United States,”the 2013 report concluded, adding: “The world is coming to know more about Boko Haram; their intentions, what they’re capable of, and who is supporting them.”

“Boko Haram,” it said, “shows no signs of ending its campaign against the government of Nigeria and the Western world.”

In February, Boko Haram slaughtered 50 teenage boys — some burned alive — at a college in northeastern Nigeria. That atrocity, like many others, was quickly forgotten in Nigeria and barely noticed outside of it. But the group attracted rare international attention, when, on April 15, militants marched into a girls’ school in Chibok, in the remote northeast corner of the country, kidnapped more than 250 teenagers, loaded them onto trucks and drove them into a dense forest at night.

The government’s failure to respond to the enraged parents of the girls prompted a rare, grass-roots protest movement to pressure President Jonathan to take action. Several hundred women marched on the Parliament building in Abuja, and a social media campaign employing the hashtag#BringBackOurGirls took off.

A video message apparently made by the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, called them slaves and threatened to “sell them in the market.”

“Western education should end,” he said in the video, speaking in Hausa and Arabic. “Girls, you should go and get married.” The Islamist leader also warned that he would “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of 9. We would marry them out at the age of 12.”

It was the first time the group had claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, which have gripped Nigeria and created deepening global concern. On Tuesday the United States offered to provide a team of experts, including military and law enforcement officers, hostage negotiators, and psychologists, to assist in recovering the girls, an offer the Nigerian government accepted.

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