Boko Haram

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Boko Haram
Congregation of the Peoples of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad
Participant in the Nigerian Sharia conflict
Logo of Boko Haram.svg
Active 2002–present
Ideology Wahhabism Salafist Jihadism
Islamic fundamentalism
Leaders Abubakar Shekau[1]
Dan Hajia (in custody)
Abatcha Flatari 
Momodu Bama 
Mohammed Yusuf 
Area of
Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, Southern Niger, Chad
Allies Ansaru
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
Opponents Nigeria Nigeria
Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)
Benin Benin
Cameroon Cameroon
Chad Chad
Niger Niger
United States United States
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Canada Canada
France France
Singapore Singapore
and wars
Nigerian Sharia conflict
2009 Nigerian sectarian violence
Nigerian states that implement some form of sharia law

Boko Haram (usually translated as "Western education is a sin"), is a militant Islamist organization based in northern Nigeria, influenced by the Wahhabi movement.[2][3][4][5] Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002,[6] the organization seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria.[7][8]The group was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a terrorist organisation in 2013.[9]

In the first half of 2014 Boko Haram killed more than 2000 civilians, in about 95 attacks;[10] and, in the preceding three years, more than 3000.[11] In May 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan claimed that Boko Haram attacks have left at least 12,000 people dead and 8,000 crippled.[12] Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.[13]

The group, led by Abubakar Shekau, does not have a clear chain of command[14] and has been described as diffuse,[15] with a cell-like structure facilitating factions and splits.[7] The leadership has links to Al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qa`ida core, Al-Shabab, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s factions, and other militant groups outside Nigeria.[16] Attacks on international targets have so far been limited.[7]


The group's official name in Arabic is والجهاد للدعوة السنة أهل جماعة, variously Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'Awati Wal-Jihad, a.k.a. Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'Awati Wal Jihad, a.k.a. Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunna Lidda'Awati Wal Jihad, meaning "People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for Propagation and Jihad".[17]

The name by which they are generally known, "Boko Haram", meaning "Western education is forbidden", derives from the Arabic harām, meaning "forbidden" (as opposed to halal); and the Hausa word boko [the first vowel is long, the second pronounced in a low tone] meaning, roughly, "fake" (defined as "(a) Doing anything to create impression that one is better off, or that thing is of better quality or larger in amount than is the case, (b) anything so treated... etc.")[18]

Western education has always been dismissed as ilimin boko,[19] "fake education" (according to another source, karatun boko);[20] a school that teaches Western education is makaranta boko.[21][22] The uncompromising hostility of the northern Nigerian Muslims towards anything remotely perceived as foreign, a mindset of boko haram that has in the past been applied even towards vocal recitation of the Quran, has historically been a source of friction with the Muslims from the middle of the country.[23]


Boko Haram was founded as a local Salafi movement and turned into a Salafi-jihadi group in 2009.[5][24] It opposes all forms of interaction with the Western world and seeks the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria.[25]In a 2009 interview, Mohammed Yusuf, then leader of the group, stated his belief that the theory that the Earth is round is contrary to Islamic teaching and should be rejected,[26] along with the theory of rain being caused by evaporation, and the theory of evolution.[27] Before his death, Yusuf reiterated the group's objective of changing the current education system and rejecting democracy.[28]

Many of the group's senior radicals were reportedly partially inspired by Mohammed Marwa (known as "Maitatsine").[29][30] The group is motivated by inter-ethnic disputes as much as by religion, and its founder Yusuf believed that a campaign of ethnic cleansing was being waged by Plateau State governor Jonah Jang against the Hausa and Fulani people.[7]



Nigeria was governed by a series of ruthless military dictatorships from its independence in 1960 until the advent of democracy in 1999. Ethnic militancy is thought to have been one of the causes of the 1967-70 civil war; religious violence reached a new height in 1980 in Kano, the largest city in the north of the country, where the Muslim fundamentalist sect Yan Tatsine ("followers of Maitatsine", the group's spiritual leader) instigated riots that resulted in 4000 casualties. In the ensuing military crackdown Maitatsine was killed, causing a backlash of increased violence which spread among other northern cities over the course of the next 20 years.[31]

In 1995, Boko Haram was said to be operating under the name Shabaab, Muslim Youth Organization with Mallam Lawal as its leader. When Lawal left to continue his education, Mohammed Yusuf took over leadership of the group. [32]Yusuf officially founded the group in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri with the aim of establishing a Shari'a government in Borno State under then-Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.[33] He established a religious complex that included a mosque and a school where many poor families from across Nigeria and from neighbouring countries enrolled their children.[34]The center was soon also working as a recruiting ground for future jihadis to fight the state.[34] The group included members who came from neighbouring Chad and Niger and spoke only Arabic.[35]In 2004 the complex was relocated to Yusuf's home state of Yobe in the village Kanamma near the Niger border.[28][36]

Yusuf attracted followers from unemployed youth by speaking out against state corruption.[37][38] Disenfranchisement and inequality in Nigeria have been the major driving forces behind the current conflict. Nigeria has laws giving regional political leaders the power to qualify people as 'indigenes' (original inhabitants) or not. It determines whether citizens can participate in politics, own land, obtain a job, or attend school. The system is abused widely to ensure political support and to exclude others. Muslims have been denied indigene-ship certificates disproportionately often.[39]°According to Nigerian opposition leader Buba Galadima "What is really a group engaged in class warfare is being portrayed in government propaganda as terrorists in order to win counter-terrorism assistance from the West."[40]

The group conducted its operations more or less peacefully during the first seven years of its existence[5] (with an exception of some skirmishes in Kannama in 2004).[36] That changed in 2009 when the Nigerian government launched an investigation into the group's activities following reports that its members were arming themselves.[41] Prior to that the government had repeatedly ignored warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organization.[41][42][43]

Clashes with security forces led to the deaths of an estimated 700 people.[44] The group's founder and then leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed during this time while in police custody.[45][46][47] After Yusuf's killing, a new leader emerged whose identity was not known at the time:[48] Abubakar Shekau, formerly the second-in-command.[49][50][51][52]

Terror campaign[edit]

Having regrouped under their new leader, in September 2010 Boko Haram broke 105 of its members out of prison in Maiduguri along with over 600 other prisoners.[53] They went on to launch bold attacks in several areas of northern Nigeria, raising tensions between Christians and Muslims.[54] As had been the case decades earlier in the wake of the 1980 Kano riots, the government's reliance on a purely military strategy, once again executing the leader of a militant group, would have unintended consequences.[55][56]

Under Shekau's leadership, the group continuousy improved its operational capabilities. After launching a string of IED attacks against soft targets, and its first vehicle-borne IED attack in June 2011, killing 6 at a police headquarters, in August of that year Boko Haram bombed the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, the first time they had struck a Western target.[57][58] A spokesman claiming responsibility for the attack, in which 11 U.N. staff members were killed as well as 12 others with more than 100 injured, warned of future planned attacks on U.S. and Nigerian government interests.[59][60] Speaking soon after the U.S. embassy's announcement of the arrival in the country of the F.B.I., he went on to announce Boko Haram's terms for negotiation - the release of all imprisoned members.[61] The increased sophistication of the group led many observers to believe that Boko Haram had linked up with al Qaeda's North African wing, which was known to be active in Niger.[62]

The group have maintained a steady rate of attacks since 2011, striking a wide range of targets, multiple times per week. Civilian targets have included schools, media, politicians and, in late 2013 an international airport and air force base where in a pre-dawn raid they killed dozens of people and destroyed three aircraft and two helicopters. Since late 2012 Boko Haram have carried out a number of kidnappings in association with the splinter group Ansaru, which has drawn them a higher level of international attention. They have also ventured into neighbouring countries, further increasing their notoriety.[63][64]

On 14 May 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa in a bid to fight the activities of Boko Harām. He ordered the Nigerian Armed Forces to the three areas around Lake Chad.[65] As of 17 May, Nigerian armed forces' shelling in Borno resulted in at least 21 deaths.[66] A curfew was imposed in Maiduguri as the military used air strikes and shellings to target Boko Harām strongholds.[67] The Nigerian state imposed a blockade on the group's traditional base of Maiduguri in Borno in order to re-establish Nigeria's "territorial integrity".[68]

On 21 May, the Defence Ministry issued a statement that read it had "secured the environs of New Marte, Hausari, Krenoa, Wulgo and Chikun Ngulalo after destroying all the terrorists' camps". Armed Forces Spokesman in Borno Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa said that the curfew that had been imposed was not relaxed with the curfew timings being 18:00 to 7:00, however there was minimal traffic in Maiduguri.[69]

On 29 May, Boko Harām's leader Abubakar Shekau, following military claims that the group had been halted,[70] released a video in which he said the group had not lost to the Nigerian armed forces. In the video he showed charred military vehicles and bodies dressed in military fatigues. While he called on Muslims from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria to join his jihad, he said in Arabic and Hausa:[71]

My fellow brethren from all over the world, I assure you that we are strong, hale and hearty since they launched this assault on us following the state of emergency declaration. When they launch any attack on us you see soldiers fleeing and throwing away their weapons like a rabbit that is been hunted down.

On the same day, Nigeria's Director of Defence Information Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade said that Shekau's unnamed deputy was found dead near Lake Chad and that two others from Boko Harām were arrested in the area. However, the military's claims were not verified.[72]

Satellite photos raise questions about the government's retaliatory attack on Boko Harām on April 16–17, 2013. Over 180 died, mostly from fires that appeared to be deliberately set during the government attack. Boko Harām fighters and civilians died in the attack.[73][74] The people of Maiduguri were unhappy with the declaration of war on the group and instead said the issues of poverty and inequality needed to be tackled first.[75]

It was reported in August 2013 that Shekau had been shot and deposed by members of his sect,[76] but he survived. He had been described as "the most dreaded and wanted" Boko Harām leader and the United States had recently offered a US$7m bounty for information leading to his arrest.[77] He has taken responsibility for the April 2014 kidnapping of over 200 school girls.[51] On 6 May 2014, eight more girls were kidnapped by suspected Boko Harām gunmen.[78][79] In a videotape, Shekau threatened to sell the kidnapped girls into slavery.[80] On May 12, 2014 Boko Harām released a video which shows the kidnapped girls and alleging that the girls had converted to Islam and would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed.[81] On May 17, 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and the presidents of Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger met in Paris and agreed to combat Boko Harām on a coordinated basis, sharing in particular surveillance and intelligence gathering. Chad President Idriss Deby said after the meeting African nations were determined to launch a total war on Boko Harām. Westen nations, including Britain, France, Israel, and the United States had also pledged support.[82][83]

On 22 May 2014 Boko Harām was officially declared a terrorist group affiliated to Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb by the United Nations Security Council.[84] International sanctions including asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo were imposed against the Islamist extremist group.[85]

On May 2014, Nigerian soldiers shot at the car of their divisional commander whom they suspected of colluding with Boko Harām and it was reported that nine Nigerian generals were being investigated for suspected sale of weapons to Boko Harām.[86]

Amnesty International accused the Nigerian government of human rights abuses after 950 suspected Boko Harām militants died in detention facilities run by Nigeria's military Joint Task Force in the first half of 2013.[87]

Timeline of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria[edit]

Between 2009 and beginning of 2012, Boko Harām was responsible for over 900 deaths.[88]

Timeline of incidents
7 September 2010 Bauchi prison break[89]
31 December 2010 December 2010 Abuja attack[90]
12 March 2011 Assassinated Muslim Cleric Imam Ibrahim Ahmed Abdullahi for criticizing the violent groups in northeast Nigeria[91]
22 April 2011 Boko Harām frees 14 prisoners during a jailbreak in Yola, Adamawa State[92]
29 May 2011 May 2011 northern Nigeria bombings[93]
16 June 2011 The group claims responsibility for the 2011 Abuja police headquarters bombing[94][95]
26 June 2011 Bombing attack on a beer garden in Maiduguri, leaving 25 dead and 12 injured[96][97]
10 July 2011 Bombing at the All Christian Fellowship Church in Suleja, Niger State[98]
11 July 2011 The University of Maiduguri temporarily closes down its campus citing security concerns[99]
12 August 2011 Prominent Muslim Cleric Liman Bana is shot dead by Boko Harām.[100]
26 August 2011 2011 Abuja bombing[101]
4 November 2011 2011 Damaturu attacks[95][102][103]
25 December 2011 December 2011 Nigeria bombings[104]
5–6 January 2012 January 2012 Nigeria attacks[105]
20 January 2012 January 2012 Kano bombings[106][107]
28 January 2012 Nigerian army says it killed 11 Boko Harām insurgents[108]
8 February 2012 Boko Harām claims responsibility for a suicide bombing at the army headquarters in Kaduna.[109]
16 February 2012 Another prison break staged in central Nigeria; 119 prisoners are released, one warden killed.[110]
8 March 2012 During a British hostage rescue attempt to free Italian engineer Franco Lamolinara and Briton Christopher McManus, abducted in 2011 by a splinter group Boko Harām, both hostages were killed.[111]
31 May 2012 During a Joint Task Force raid on a Boko Harām den, it was reported that 5 sect members and a German hostage were killed.[112]
3 June 2012 15 church-goers were killed and several injured in a church bombing in Bauchi state. Boku Harām claimed responsibility through spokesperson Abu Qaqa.[113]
17 June 2012 Suicide bombers strike three churches in Kaduna State. At least 50 people were killed.[114][115]
17 June 2012 130 bodies were found in Plateau State. It is presumed they were killed by Boko Harām terrorists.[116]
18 September 2012 Family of four murdered[117]
18 September 2012 Murder of six at an outdoor party[117]
19 September 2012 Nigerian Military arrests Boko Harām militants, reported death of Abu Qaqa[118]
3 October 2012 Around 25–46 people were massacred in the town of Mubi in Nigeria during a night-time raid.[119]
18 March 2013 2013 Kano Bus bombing: At least 22 killed and 65 injured, when a suicide car bomb exploded in Kano bus station.
19 April 2013 Deadliest attack since 2009: gun battle with security forces leaves 260 dead and nearly 1000 injured[120]
7 May 2013 At least 55 killed and 105 inmates freed in coordinated attacks on army barracks, a prison and police post in Bama town.[121]
6 July 2013 Yobe State school shooting: 42 people, mostly students, were killed in a school attack in northeast Nigeria.[122]
29 September 2013 College of Agriculture in Gujba: 40 male students killed.[123]
14 January 2014 At least 31 people killed, over 50 people injured by suicide bombing in Maiduguri, Borno State.[124]
16 February 2014 Izghe massacre: 106 villagers are killed, 105 of whom were boys and men.[125]
25 February 2014 Federal Government College attack: Fury at military over Yobe deaths. At least 29 teenage boys dead at Federal Government College Buni Yadi.[126]
14 April 2014 2014 Chibok kidnapping: Government properties, including the only girls' secondary school, attacked. At least 16 killed or missing, and 234 female students kidnapped. The Boko Harām militants said it would treat them as slaves as part of the "war booty".[34]
14 April 2014 April 2014 Abuja bombing: Two bombs explode at a crowded bus station in Abuja, Nigeria, killing at least 90 people and injuring more than 200.
1 May 2014 A car bomb exploded killing at least 19 people and injured at least 60 in the same area of Abuja as the April bomb.[127]
5 May 2014 2014 Gamburu attack: Boko Harām attacked the twin towns of Gamboru and Ngala in Borno State, Nigeria. They started shooting in a busy marketplace, set houses on fire, and gunned down anyone who tried to flee. The death toll of the massacre has been set as high as 336.
13 May 2014 Menari, Tsangayari and Garawa: Boko Harām attacked three villages, killing around 60 people in Menari. Vigilantes fought back, killing over 200 Boko Harām militants.[128]
17 May 2014 Paris summit: A summit in Paris has declared Boko Harām is part of al-Qaeda as leaders from West African nations resolved to mount a region-wide offensive against the group that is holding more than 200 schoolgirls hostage in a dense jungle.[129] Western nations have pledged to provide technical expertise and training to the new regional African effort against the Islamic extremists.[130]
18 May 2014 Kano: Suicide car bomb kills five people.[131]
20 May 2014 Jos: Twin bomb explosions kill 118 people.
30 May 2014 Assassination of Muslim leader Alhaji Idrissa Timta the Emir of Gwoza in Borno state.[132]
1 June 2014 Mubi bombing: An attack at a football field in Mubi, Adamawa state kills at least 40 people.[133]
2 June 2014 Militants dressed as soldiers slaughtered at least 200 civilians in three communities in northeastern Nigeria's Borno state, in the Gwoza local government district. A community leader who witnessed the Monday killings had said that local residents had pleaded for help from the military, but it did not arrive in time. It took a few days for word from survivors to reach the provincial capital of Maiduguri, because the roads are extremely dangerous and phone connections are poor or nonexistent. The slaughter was confirmed by both Mohammed Ali Ndume, a senator representing Borno and whose hometown is Gwoza, and by a top security official in Maiduguri who insisted on anonymity.[134]
29 May - June 5 6 attacks, killing 506 civilians, 5 military; 20 women and 3 men abducted. 60 Boko Haram killed by Cameroon's military[135][136]
June 6 - June 12 4 attacks, killing 5 civilians, 6 military; military kill 50 Boko Haram[137]
June 13 - June 19 2 attacks, 46 civilians killed; 8 Boko Haram killed by Borno vigilante group[138]
June 20 - June 26 4 attacks, 93 civilians killed, 60 abducted. A military fighter jet bombed unknown number of Boko Haram in counterattack; 25 Boko Haram and 16 soldiers killed in attack on military base. Cameroon military killed 10 Boko Haram near border[139]
June 27 - July 3 2 attacks, 112 killed[140]
July 4 - July 10 4 Boko Haram attacks, 11 civilians, 1 vigilante, 33 soldiers, 4 police killed. 53 Boko Haram were killed while capturing a military base and police station in Borno on the 4th of July. On the 6th, soldiers killed a Boko Haram kingpin and his brother at their home in Kaduna; also on the 6th, 44 Boko Haram were killed in 2 military operations in Borno[141][142]
July 11 - July 17 4 attacks, 81 civilians killed, many of these shot by fighter jet in a failed counter-attack. German teacher kidnapped and 2 vigilantes killed on July 16th in Adamawa, presumably by Boko Haram[143]
July 25 - July 27 2 attacks in Kolofata, Cameroon, including the kidnapping of the wife of the Vice Prime Minister, Amadou Ali, as well as local religious leader and mayor, Seini Boukar-Lamine. [144]


Motorcycles are a trademark mode of transport for Boko Haram.[29][145]

The U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram and Ansari as terrorist organisations in November 2013, citing various reasons, including links with AQIM, "thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years, including targeted killings of civilians", and Ansaru's 2013 kidnapping and execution of seven international construction workers. In the statement from the Department it was also noted, however, "These designations are an important and appropriate step, but only one tool in what must be a comprehensive approach by the Nigerian government to counter these groups through a combination of law enforcement, political, and development efforts (sic)."[146][147]

In a 2013 U.S. report, Boko Haram was ranked as the second deadliest terrorist group in the world after the Taliban in Afghanistan.[148] In a recent (July 2014) U.K. assessment, Nigeria is estimated to have had the highest number of terrorist killings in the world over the past year, 3477 deaths in 146 attacks.[149] In February 2014 the governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima, of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party, told journalists "Boko Haram are better armed and are better motivated than our own troops. Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram."[150]


Boko Haram is largely funded by other Islamist groups and from kidnapping ransoms.[151]

In February 2012, recently arrested officials revealed that "while the organization initially relied on donations from members, its links with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, opened it up to more funding from groups in Saudi Arabia and the UK". They went on to say that other sources of funding included the Al Muntada Trust Fund and the Islamic World Society.[152][153]

In the past, Nigerian officials have been criticized for being unable to trace much of the funding that Boko Haram has received.[154]

The group also extorts local governments. A spokesman of Boko Haram claimed that Kano state governor Ibrahim Shekarau and Bauchi state governor Isa Yuguda had paid them monthly.[155][156]

See also[edit]



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