While the world’s attention has been focused on terrorist attacks by radical Islamist groups in Europe, Iraq, and Syria, another series of attacks in Africa has largely gone unnoticed. Here are nine things you should know about Boko Haram, the militant group waging a campaign of terror while attempting to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria.
1. Boko Haram is the Hausa language nickname for Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (ongregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad). The nickname, which translates to “Western education is sinful,” was given because of the group’s initial focus on opposing Western education in African countries.
2. Founded in 2002, the terrorist group is comprised of radical Islamists who oppose both Westerners and “apostate” Muslims. Based in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger, the organization seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, putting a stop to what it deems “Westernization.” Its followers are said to be influenced by the Koranic phrase which says: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors.
3. Despite the groups nickname, Boko Haram’s agenda is much broader than just education. The group promotes a version of radical Islam which makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers, or receiving a non-Muslim education.
4. In 2009 the group launched military operation to create an Islamic state in Africa. The group carried out a number of attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri. Nigeria’s security forces were able to capture the group’s leader, Muhammad Yusuf, the group’s headquarters, and many of its fighters. The Nigerian government thought the threat was suppressed, but the organization regrouped under a new leader, Abubakar Shekau.
5. Boko Haram is currently led by Abubakar Shekau, also known by the nickname, Darul Tawheed (“the abode of monotheism”). Shekau took over in 2009 when the group’s founder, Muhammad Yusuf, died in police custody in Nigeria. He’s described as having a photographic memory, being well-versed in Islamic theology, and being extremely ruthless. In a video released after one of the group’s attacks, Shekau said, ““I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill – the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.”
6. From 2009 to 2014, Boko Haram carried out numerous attacks against Christians. (In Kano, a city of more than 9 million people, Boku Haram even threatened to kill any Christians living there.) On Easter 2012, 38 people were killed in a car bombing in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. Kaduna lies on the dividing line between Nigeria’s largely Christian south and Muslim north.
7. During the night of April 16, 2014, dozens of armed men from Boko Haram captured over 300 Christian girls aged 12 to 15 who were sleeping in dormitories at Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeast Nigeria. Some of the kidnapped girls have been forced into “marriage” with their Boko Haram abductors, sold for a nominal bride price of $12, according to parents who talked with villagers. All of the girls risk being forced into marriages or sold in the global market for human slaves. The kidnappings were the focus of the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ social media campaign that garnered significant attention in 2014.
8. On January 10, 2015, a girl believed to have been no more than 10 years old detonated a bomb concealed under her veil at a crowded northern Nigeria market, killing as many as 20 people and wounding many more. One day later, two more girls believed to be age 10 walked into a market selling cell phones and blew themselves up. The explosions are believed to be a new tactic in the Islamists’ campaign with Boko Haram’s decision to use children—many of them likely kidnapped—as suicide bombers.
9. During an attack that started January 3 and continued through January 11, Boko Haram opened fire on 16 northern Nigerian villages. The death toll estimates range from 200 to as many 2,000 people. Another 10,000 people who managed to escape have fled to neighboring Chad. Many Nigerians drowned in an attempt to cross Lake Chad to escape what is now described as the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram. Over the past six months, the militant group has taken control of more than two dozen towns in northeast Nigeria, most of them in Borno State, and launched attacks into Chad and Cameroon. The territory controlled by Boko Haram now nearly equals the Islamic State’s in Iraq and Syria.
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