Boko Haram

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Boko Haram
Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad
جماعة أهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد
Participant in the Nigerian Sharia conflict
Active 2002–present
Ideology Islamic extremism
Islamic fundamentalism
Leaders Abubakar Shekau[1]
Dan Hajia
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)
Cameroon Cameroon
Chad Chad
Niger Niger
and wars
Nigerian Sharia conflict
2009 Nigerian sectarian violence
Nigerian states where Boko Haram operate and that implement some form of sharia law (in green).
Nigerian states where Boko Haram has staged attacks

The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad[2][3] (Arabic: جماعة اهل السنة للدعوة والجهادJamāʻat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-daʻwa wal-Jihād)—better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram (pronounced [bōːkòː hàrâm], "Western education is sinful")[4]—is an Islamic jihadist and takfiri militant and terrorist organization based in the northeast of Nigeria,[5] north Cameroon and Niger.[6][7][8][9] Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002,[10] the organisation seeks to establish a "pure" Islamic state ruled by sharia law,[11] putting a stop to what it deems "Westernization".[12][13] The group is known for attacking Christians and government targets,[12] bombing churches, attacking schools and police stations,[14][15] kidnapping western tourists, but has also assassinated members of the Islamic establishment.[16] Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in an estimated 10,000 deaths between 2002 and 2013.[17][18][19][20][21][22]

The group exerts influence in the northeastern Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe and Kano. In this region, a state of emergency has been declared. The group does not have a clear structure or evident chain of command[23] and has been called "diffuse"[16] with a "cell-like structure" facilitating factions and splits.[11] It is reportedly divided into three factions[12] with a splinter group known as Ansaru. The group's main leader is Abubakar Shekau. Its weapons expert, second-in-command and arms manufacturer was Momodu Bama.

Whether it has links to jihadist groups outside Nigeria is disputed. According to one US military commander, Boko Haram is likely linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),[24][25] but others have found no evidence of material international support,[26] and attacks by the group on international targets have so far been limited.[11] On November 13, 2013 the United States government designated the group as a terrorist organisation.

Many of the group's senior radicals were reportedly partially inspired by the late Islamic preacher known as Maitatsine.[27][28] Others believe the group is motivated by inter-ethnic disputes as much as religion, and that its founder Yusuf believed there was a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” by Plateau State governor Jonah Jang against the Hausa and Fulani people.[11] Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian government of human rights abuses after 950 suspected Boko Haram militants died in detention facilities run by Nigeria's military Joint Task Force in the first half of 2013.[29] The conflicts have left around 90,000 people displaced.[30] Human Rights Watch claims that Boko Haram uses child soldiers, including 12 year olds.[31]


The group has adopted its official name to be "the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad",[32] which is the English translation from Arabic[33] Jamā'at ahl as-sunnah li-d-da'wa wa-l-jihād (جماعة أهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد).

In the town of Maiduguri, where the group was formed, the residents dubbed it Boko Haram. The term "Boko Haram" comes from the Hausa word boko figuratively meaning "western education" (literally "alphabet", from English "book") and the Arabic word haram figuratively meaning "sin" (literally, "forbidden").[34][35][36][37] The name, loosely translated from Hausa, means "western education is forbidden". The group earned this name by its strong opposition to anything Western, which it sees as corrupting Muslims.[38] However, this interpretation of the name is disputed, and locals who speak the Hausa language are unsure what it means.[39]

Dr Ahmad Murtada of the Islamic Studies Department, University of Bayero, Kano has noted in his research of the group that the name of the movement should not be understood literally from the Hausa, but rather as meaning "traversing the Western system of education is haram".[40]


Boko Haram was founded as an indigenous group, turning itself into a Jihadist group in 2009.[5] It proposes that interaction with the Western world is forbidden, and also supports opposition to the Muslim establishment and the government of Nigeria.[41]

The members of the group do not interact with the local Muslim population[42] and have carried out assassinations in the past of anyone who criticises it, including Muslim clerics.[38][43][44]

In a 2009 BBC interview, Mohammed Yusuf, then leader of the group, stated his belief that the fact of a spherical Earth is contrary to Islamic teaching and should be rejected, along with Darwinian evolution and the fact of rain originating from water evaporated by the sun.[45] Before his death, Yusuf reiterated the group's objective of changing the current education system and rejecting democracy.[46] Nigerian academic Hussain Zakaria told BBC News that the controversial cleric had a graduate education, spoke proficient English, lived a lavish lifestyle and drove a Mercedes-Benz.[45]

In the wake of the 2009 crackdown on its members and its subsequent reemergence, the growing frequency and geographical range of attacks attributed to Boko Haram have led some political and religious leaders in the north to the conclusion that the group has now expanded beyond its original religious composition to include not only Islamic militants, but criminal elements and disgruntled politicians as well. For instance Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima said of Boko Haram: “[they have] become a franchise that anyone can buy into. It's something like a Bermuda Triangle.”[47] The group has also forcibly converted non-Muslims to Islam.[48]

Dr Ahmad Murtada of the Islamic Studies Department, University of Bayero, Kano has noted in his research into Mohammed Yusuf and Boko Haram that the core principles of the group are: an emphasis on 'Hakimiyyah' [sovereignty to God's law]; a belief that they are the "Saved Sect" mentioned in the Prophetic Tradition of Islam; prohibiting studying in Western educational centres of learning as they consider them to be based on non-Islamic traditions and colonialism, they thus criticise Saudi Arabia for its usage of "Western" educational methods; prohibiting working in any governmental institution or civil service role; a contorted interpretation of the edicts of scholars from the classical tradition such as Ibn Taymiyyah to support their rebellions and use of violence; post-2009 a close relationship with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and further incorporation into the global Jihadi and Takfiri worldview. Boko Haram have thus been widely rejected and repudiated by adherents of the Salafi tradition in Nigeria.[40]


Dr Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, the Niger State governor, has criticized the group, saying, "Islam is known to be a religion of peace and does not accept violence and crime in any form" and Boko Haram doesn't represent Islam.[49]

The Sultan of Sokoto Sa'adu Abubakar, the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims, has called the sect "anti-Islamic" and, as reported by the website, "an embarrassment to Islam".[50]

The Coalition of Muslim Clerics in Nigeria (CMCN) have called on the Boko Haram to disarm and embrace peace.[51]

The Islamic Circle of North America,[52] the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada,[53] the Muslim Council of Britain,[54] the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation[55] and the Council on American Islamic Relations[56] have all condemned the group.



Before colonisation and subsequent annexation into the British Empire, the Bornu Empire ruled the territory where Boko Haram is currently active. It was a sovereign sultanate run according to the principles of the Constitution of Medina, with a majority Kanuri Muslim population. The Bornu Sultanate emerged after the overthrow of the Kanem-Bornu Empire ruled by the Sayfawa dynasty for over 2000 years.[citation needed] The Bornu Sultanate of the Kanuri is distinct from the Sokoto Caliphate of the Hausa/Fulani established in 1802 by the military conquest of Usman dan Fodio.[5] Both the Bornu Sultanate and Sokoto Caliphate came under control of the British in 1903. During this period Christian missionaries used western education as a tool for evangelism, this has lead to secular education being viewed with suspicion by many in the local population.[38] Increased dissatisfaction gave rise to many fundamentalists among the Kanuri and other peoples of northeast Nigeria.

One of the most famous such fundamentalists was Mohammed Marwa, also known as Maitatsine, who was at the height of his notoriety during the 1970s and 1980s. He was sent into exile by the Nigerian authorities, he refused to believe Muhammad was the Prophet and instigated riots in the country which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Some analysts view Boko Haram as an extension of the Maitatsine riots.[57]


In 1995, the group was said to be operating under the name Shabaab, Muslim Youth Organisation with Mallam Lawal as the leader. When Lawal left to continue his education, Mohammed Yusuf took over leadership of the group. Yusuf’s leadership allegedly opened the group to political influence and popularity.[58]

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.[57] 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.[38]

The centre had ulterior political goals and soon it was also working as a recruiting ground for future jihadis to fight the state.[38] The group includes members who come from neighbouring Chad and Niger and speak only Arabic.[59]

In 2004 the complex was relocated to Yusuf's home state of Yobe in the village Kanamma near the Niger border.[46]

Human Rights Watch researcher Eric Guttschuss told IRIN News that Yusuf successfully attracted followers from unemployed youth "by speaking out against police and political corruption". Abdulkarim Mohammed, a researcher on Boko Haram, added that violent uprisings in Nigeria are ultimately due to "the fallout of frustration with corruption and the attendant social malaise of poverty and unemployment".[60] Chris Kwaja, a Nigerian university lecturer and researcher, asserts that “religious dimensions of the conflict have been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement and inequality are the root causes”. Nigeria, he points out, 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.[61] Nigerian opposition leader Buba Galadima says: "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."[62]

Beginning of violence[edit]

Timeline of incidents
7 September 2010 Bauchi prison break[63]
31 December 2010 December 2010 Abuja attack[64]
12 March 2011 Assassinated Muslim Cleric Imam Ibrahim Ahmed Abdullahi for criticizing the violent groups in northeast Nigeria[44]
22 April 2011 Boko Haram frees 14 prisoners during a jailbreak in Yola, Adamawa State[65]
29 May 2011 May 2011 northern Nigeria bombings[66]
16 June 2011 The group claims responsibility for the 2011 Abuja police headquarters bombing[67][68]
26 June 2011 Bombing attack on a beer garden in Maiduguri, leaving 25 dead and 12 injured[69][70]
10 July 2011 Bombing at the All Christian Fellowship Church in Suleja, Niger State[71]
11 July 2011 The University of Maiduguri temporarily closes down its campus citing security concerns[72]
12 August 2011 Prominent Muslim Cleric Liman Bana is shot dead by Boko Haram[43]
26 August 2011 2011 Abuja bombing[73]
4 November 2011 2011 Damaturu attacks[68][74][75]
25 December 2011 December 2011 Nigeria bombings[76]
5–6 January 2012 January 2012 Nigeria attacks[77]
20 January 2012 January 2012 Kano bombings[78][79]
28 January 2012 Nigerian army says it killed 11 Boko Haram insurgents[80]
8 February 2012 Boko Haram claims responsibility for a suicide bombing at the army headquarters in Kaduna.[81]
16 February 2012 Another prison break staged in central Nigeria; 119 prisoners are released, one warden killed.[82]
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 Haram, both hostages were killed.[83]
31 May 2012 During a Joint Task Force raid on a Boko Haram den, it was reported that 5 sect members and a German hostage were killed.[84]
3 June 2012 15 church-goers were killed and several injured in a church bombing in Bauchi state. Boku Haram claimed responsibility through spokesperson Abu Qaqa.[85]
17 June 2012 Suicide bombers strike three churches in Kaduna State. At least 50 people were killed.[86][87]
17 June 2012 130 bodies were found in Plateau State. It is presumed they were killed by Boko Haram members.[88]
18 September 2012 Family of four murdered[89]
18 September 2012 Murder of six at an outdoor party[89]
19 September 2012 Nigerian Military arrest Boko Haram members, reported death of Abu Qaqa[90]
3 October 2012 Around 25–46 people were massacred in the town of Mubi in Nigeria during a night-time raid.[91]
18 March 2013 2013 Kano Bus bombing: At least 22 killed and 65 injured, when a suicide car bomb exploded in Kano bus station.
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.[92]
6 July 2013 Yobe State school shooting: 42 people, mostly students, were killed in a school attack in northeast Nigeria.[93]
29 September 2013 College of Agriculture in Gujba: 40 students killed.[94]
14 January 2014 At least 31 people killed, over 50 people injured by suicide bombing in Maiduguri, Borno State.[95]
16 February 2014 Izghe massacre: 106 villagers are killed.[96]
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.[97]
14 April 2014 Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State Attack: Government properties, including the only girls' secondary school, attacked. At least 16 killed or missing, and 136 female students kidnapped[98]

The group conducted its operations more or less peacefully during the first seven years of its existence.[5] That changed in 2009 when the Nigerian government launched an investigation into the group's activities following reports that its members were arming themselves.[99] Prior to that the government reportedly repeatedly ignored warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organisation, including that of a military officer.[99]

When the government came into action, several members of the group were arrested in Bauchi, sparking deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces which led to the deaths of an estimated 700 people. During the fighting with the security forces Boko Haram fighters reportedly "used fuel-laden motorcycles" and "bows with poison arrows" to attack a police station.[100] The group's founder and then leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed during this time while in police custody.[101][102][103] After Yusuf's killing, a new leader emerged whose identity was not known at the time.[104]


After the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the group carried out its first attack in Borno in January 2011. It resulted in the killing of four people.[105] Since then, the violence has only escalated in terms of both frequency and intensity.

In January 2012, Abubakar Shekau, a former deputy to Yusuf, appeared in a video posted on YouTube. According to Reuters, Shekau took control of the group after Yusuf's death in 2009.[106] Authorities had previously believed that Shekau died during the violence in 2009.[107]

State counter-offensive[edit]

According to Human Rights Watch, during the period between 2009 and beginning of 2012, Boko Haram was responsible for over 900 deaths.[108]

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 Haram. He ordered the Nigerian Armed Forces to the three areas around Lake Chad.[109] As of 17 May, Nigerian armed forces' shelling in Borno resulted in at least 21 deaths.[110] A curfew was imposed in Maiduguri as the military used air strikes and shellings to target Boko Haram strongholds.[111] 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".[112]

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.[113]

On 29 May, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau, following military claims that the group had been halted,[114] 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:[115]

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 Haram were arrested in the area. However, the military's claims were not verified.[116]

Videos were later released showing the alleged bodies of Boko Haram fighters and civilians, including women and children, that died as a result of the military's fighting.[117][citation needed] 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.[118]

It was announced that Shekau was shot in a firefight on 30 June in the Sambisa forest. Nigeria's military said that he likely died between 25 July and 3 August after being secretly taken to Cameroon to receive treatment. He had been described as "the most dreaded and wanted" Boko Haram leader and the United States had recently offered a US$7m bounty for information leading to his arrest.[119]


Motorcycles are a trademark mode of transport for Boko Haram.[27][120]

Nigeria's former National Security Adviser, General Owoye Andrew Azazi, has been working with other African governments, European and Middle Eastern governments, and the U.S. government to build cooperation against Boko Haram. He met in 2010 with CIA Director Leon Panetta, and in 2011 with AFRICOM Commander General Ham, and other U.S. officials, and was in the United States when the congressional panel was preparing its report on Boko Haram. He participated in a CIA conference at about the same time.[121] After the Christmas 2011 bombings carried out by Boko Haram, U.S. President Barack Obama's office issued a statement that confirmed that the U.S. and Nigeria were cooperating against the terrorist group.[122]

Strategy and recruiting[edit]

In March 2012, it was reported that Boko Haram had taken a strategy to simulate convoys of high-profile Nigerians to access target buildings that are secured with fortifications. Boko Haram has also reportedly attacked Christian worship centres to "trigger reprisal in all parts of the country", distracting authorities so they can unleash attacks elsewhere.

The group is also known for using motorcycles as a vehicle to assassinating government officials and security officers. This has led to motorcycle bans in the city of Maiduguri.[120]

It was gathered that the group uses the Internet to propagate its activities and enhance its radicalisation and circulation of extremist ideologies. Boko Haram is reportedly planning to greatly increase its following in many states. Talk of Naija reported that Boko Haram has been involved in a recruitment drive, and they are allegedly targeting Muslims between ages of 17 and 30, and have also been recruiting freed prisoners through prison breaks. The group is also known to assign non-Kanuris on suicide missions.[58]


Funding sources for Boka Haram are not certain.[24][26] In the past, Nigerian officials have been criticised for being unable to trace much of the funding that Boko Haram has received.[123]

It is believed to be partially funded by bank robberies.[16]

It is also believed to be funded by other Islamist groups. In February 2012, recently arrested officials revealed that "while the organisation 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.[124]

The group also extorts local governments for so-called "protection money". A spokesman of Boko Haram claimed that Kano state governor Ibrahim Shekarau and Bauchi state governor Isa Yuguda had paid them monthly.[125][126]

Since Boko Haram is recognised by the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, it is restricted from receiving funds from the U.S. or U.S. nationals.[127]

In mid March 2014, allegations backed by a tapped phone conversation arose about the use of Turkish Airlines to lift weapons to Boko Haram, in an operation directed by the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey, and known by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's Chief of Staff, Mustafa Varank.[128]

See also[edit]


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40 Killed

External links[edit]