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Boko Haram (II): the evolution of Nigeria's militant Islamist group
   
 
 
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Boko Haram (II): the evolution of Nigeria's militant Islamist group

 
Tuesday, 05 May 2015 09:11
 
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by Lorenzo Giuseppe Siggillino (EPOS)
EPOS Insights

 

In 2002 Mohammed Yusuf founded Boko Haram in Maiduguri, North-East Nigeria, Borno State. The name of the group literally means "Western education is forbidden": boko stems from "book" and it indicates the 'Western culture', while haram is an Arabic category which indicates the forbidden actions. Initially, Boko Haram did not use violence against local authorities, but it tried to represent an alternative to the Nigerian ruling Ă©lite. Mohammed Yusuf criticized the federal government for its corruption and for its management of the oil revenues. Although the 1999 Nigerian constitution declared that the federal institutions should have distributed those revenues on the basis of the population inhabiting the various States, the northern areas did not obtain sufficient support and the population kept feeling abandoned from the central government.

Mohammed Yusuf started to preach in a mosque and founded a school which tought Islamic education. The institute collected many registrations, because other schools were significantly more expensive. Welfare in North Nigeria was inadequate and Boko Haram had the support of Borno population because many inhabitants of the area could not give education to their children due to the high costs.

During Yusuf’s leadership terrorist attacks were sporadic and mainly directed against local authorities. After Yusuf’s capture and death in 2009, Aboubakar Shekau became the leader. Under his leadership, violent attacks became habitual and characterized by greater brutality. Although the new leader had for sure an impact on Boko Haram’s radicalization, this phenomenon has been also influenced by many other several factors: the election of the Christian President Goodluck Jonathan (2010); the increase of the economic resources; the deterioration of life conditions in the North; the cruel repression of Boko Haram members carried out by Nigerian police and army.

Since 2010, Boko Haram has drastically changed its modus operandi. On 23 August 2011 the group attacked the UN headquarters in Abuja, using a suicide bomber. This event represented a "statement attack", evidencing the evolution the group was undertaking. Abuja has been a watershed for Boko Haram: it was the first time that the organization targeted an international symbol. The episode displays many similarities with the attack on the UN headquarters in Algeri (2007) carried out by AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), but represented something completely new for the Nigerian terrorist organization which was not used to attack with suicide bombers and was not used to target international objectives.

Shekau considerably changed the communication strategies that had been adopted until then. In 2012, for the first time, he spoke Arabic in a video, instead of Hausa. In November of the same year he published a video, on an islamic extremism forum, addressed to all "the brothers committed to fight the same war of Boko Haram": Shekau mentioned the fighters in northern Mali, in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Iraq, the Palestinians, the extremists in Libya, expressing solidarity with all the forces struggling to create an Islamic State.

On 24 August 2014 Shekau announced in a video the creation of an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria, and recently sweared allegiance to al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The communication strategy adopted by Boko Haram is strictly connected with its goals. At a earlier stage, the group wanted to destabilize the national context in order to create the conditions for a division within the nation. Accordingly, Yusuf and Shekau in their videos used the Hausa language, because the people they wanted to address were mainly the Nigerians living in the North. At a later stage, the organization tried to gain legitimacy in front of other terrorist organizations, declaring the partecipation to the international jihad, swearing allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The goal of Boko Haram is always the destabilization of Nigeria and the creation of an Islamic State, but its actions become ascribable to a wider international movement directed to destabilize an always growing number of countries.

The internationalization process which Boko Haram has undertaken since 2010 is confirmed by the targets the organization attacked in the last five years. Boko Haram, willing to become an international actor and a regional threat, started to attack outside Nigeria and carried out operations able to shock the public opinion. As already mentioned, in 2011 the group attacked for the first time an international target. In 2012, it is plausible to believe the group participated in the war in Northern Mali (many sources confirm it) along with AQIM and other Islamic terrorist organizations. In 2014 Boko Haram gained definitively an international dimension thanks to the attacks in Cameroon and thanks to some brutal operations. On 15 April 2014 Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls in a school in Chibok (Borno state). In July 2014 the organization kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister, in a city close to the Nigerian border. The Chibok attack in particular shocked all the world, giving the organization an unprecedented visibility. Boko Haram became well-known in Europe and in the US thanks also to the viral campaign launched on the web #Bringbackourgirls.

In the last five years, Boko Haram has got closer to other extremist groups using Arabic in the videos, expressing solidarity, using the same method of operation and adopting the same rethoric of other organizations. Even before Shekau sweared allegiance to IS, it was possible to note growing linkages between Boko Haram and the international jihadist movement.

The Nigerian militant islamist groups has become an international actor committed to the spread of jihad all over the world; it has also become a regional threat equipped with a permanent military structure, and has tried to gain visibility and draw the attention of the global public opinion. Obviously, the intensity of the threat perceived by people is fundamental for a terrorist group, as the primary goal is to spread terror in order to destabilize the political and social context.

Growing linkages mean greater coordination capacities which in turn need a serious and coherent response. Boko Haram is now fighting against an African contingent composed of units from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Chad. The African contingent was created in January 2015 and is allowed to enter in Nigeria in order to struggle the terrorist group which in turn began to attack also in Niger and Chad.

The Nigerian army has been dealing with Boko Haram for more than ten years and no solution was found. One of the main issues is that the Nigerian army is not well-equipped and under this aspect the creation of the African special force could certainly prove effective. To this end, the US decided to conduct the Flintlock military training in Chad, in February 2015, in order to share with the African national armies modern technologies to fight terrorism, threat that is considerably growing all over the continent.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 May 2015 10:02
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