Find a Security Clearance Job!


Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)
/ Boko Haram

Boko Haram’s declaration of a caliphate and an Islamic state in Nigeria on 24 August 2014 mirrored the declaration made three months earlier by the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Boko Haram was believed to be in control of areas of north eastern Nigeria including the southern part of Borno state as well as much of the territory of northern Borno and towns in neighboring Yobe state.

US intelligence officials believed as of early 2015 that Boko Haram had 4,000 to 6,000 fighters, the vast majority of whom have been recruited from northern Nigeria and from nearby areas with which Boko Haram has ethnic or cultural links.

The Boko Haram conflict has become one of the deadliest in the world. An October 07, 2014 report said at least 11,000 people have been killed as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. The estimate came from researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, who used media reports to compile a database on deadly violence in Nigeria going back to 1998. More than 7,000 people were killed in the 12 months between July 2013 and June 2014, and casualties from the conflict are piling up at higher rate than those from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The estimate includes casualties caused by Boko Haram attacks and operations by the military, which uses indiscriminate and heavy-handed violence in an effort to stop the insurgents.

The most serious human rights problems in Nigeria involve abuses committed by the militant sect “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad” (Hausa: Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad)--better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram (“Western education is anathema” literally boko=books, haram=prohibited), and by the Nigerian security forces operating against them. Boko Haram has conducted killings, bombings, kidnappings, and other attacks throughout the country, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries, and widespread destruction of property; abuses committed by the security services with impunity, including killings, beatings, arbitrary detention, and destruction of property; and societal violence, including ethnic, regional, and religious violence.

Boko Haram began in 2002 when about 200 university students and unemployed youth created a camp in Yobe State near the Niger border to withdraw from what they considered the corrupt, simple, and unjust Nigerian Government. Their community was supposedly founded on Islamic law, and the group was known by the nickname the ‘‘Nigerian Taliban.’’ Violent clashes with Nigerian security forces destroyed the group several times, but its charismatic leader, Mohammed Yusuf, kept the group alive until his death while in police custody in July 2009.

Boko Haram is not one group but rather several separate groups who follow the Yusufiyya ideology founded by Sheikh Muhammad Yusuf in 2002. By 2011 movement had fragmented into four factions united in ideology and in waging war against the Nigerian State - Jamaa’atu Ahlis-Sunnah led by Abubakar Shekau, Jamaa’atu Ahlis-Sunnah led by Sheikh Bukar Al-Barnawi, Ansorul-Muslimiin led by Abu Usamah Al-Ansori, and Harakatul-Muhajiriin led by Khalid Al-Barnawi. The goals and objectives of these groups all vary, which has made it very difficult for them to unite and work together except in combat actions.

  1. Abubarkar Ibn Muhammad Shekau (Abu Bakr Ash-Shaikawi in Arabic), a figure about whom very little is known, with a preference to be the only face of Boko Haram. He is the leader of the most hardline of all the Yusufiyya groups - Jama‘atu Ahl as-Sunnah il-Da‘awati wal-Jihad. It is said that he joined the Yusufiyya Movement a few months before the 2009 Maiduguri Conflict and the subsequent death of Sheikh Yusuf. Shekau was previously the group’s second-in-command. In July 2010, Shekau publicly claimed leadership of Boko Haram and threatened to attack Western interests in Nigeria. Later that month, Shekau issued a second statement expressing solidarity with al-Qa‘ida and threatening the United States. On 21 June 2012, the US Department of State designated Shekau a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. The Australian negotiator, Dr. Stephen Davis, who claims to have worked closely with Abubakar Shekau, said 22 September 2014 “I continue to hold to the position that Shekau was killed on or about June 19, 2013 when we were close to concluding a peace deal. Videos immediately prior to that time were produced using a “fake” Shekau."
  2. Sheikh Bukar Al-Barnawi, a reclusive student of Sheikh Yusuf, is regarded as the true heir to the founder of the Yusufiyya sect (along with Rabiu Zubair, who now serves as his deputy).
  3. Ansorul-Muslimiina Fii Biladis-Sudan [Helpers Of The Musims In The Lands Of The Sudan, the Sudan being a generic name used by ancient Muslim historians to refer to Muslim lands in the Saharan and Sahel areas stretching from Ethiopia to Senegal and Mauritania] is led by Abu Usamah Al-Ansori supposedly the nom de guerre of Muhammad Haruna Bello, a senior student of the late Sheikh Yusuf and a member of the his Shura Council.
  4. The fourth Yusufiyya group, Harakatul-Muhajiriin, is also known as Junduallh, Harakat Al-Muhajirin, Harakatul-Muhajiriina Wal-Mujahidiin (Movement of Those Who Have Migrated and Those Who Struggle), Harakatul-Muhajiriin Wal-Mujahidiin or Harakatul-Muhajiriina Wal-Mujahidiin [Movement Of Those Who Have Migrated And Those Who Struggle]. This group is run by Khalid Al-Barnawi, and it is an affiliate of Ansorul-Muslimiin but is completely independent of it. Unlike the Jamaa’atu Ahlis-Sunnah and Ansorul-Muslimiin, Harakatul-Muhajiriin saw itself as an integral part of the Global Al-Qaeda-led Jihad and developed intensive ties of all kinds with Al-Qaeda In The Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) and Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). On 21 June 2012 The Department of State designated Khalid al-Barnawi [along with Abubakar Shekau and Abubakar Adam Kambar] as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224.

Boko Haram was responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians. Boko Haram had been blamed for thousands of deaths since it began attacking churches, schools, government offices, security forces, media houses, banks and markets in 2009. Security forces have been accused of ratcheting up the violence by killing suspects instead of arresting them and holding people indefinitely without charges.

Outrage was building about the seeming inability of the Nigerian government to mount a coherent response to Boko Haram’s audacious attacks. Nigerians were increasingly pointing to rampant corruption and incompetence among police and military units. Among rank-and-file officers, many feel that senior officers are purposely avoiding confronting Boko Haram militants head-on so they can skim off the increasing funding, and supplies, for their own purposes.

Contrary to the situation a few years earlier, by 2014 Boko Haram forces were well armed, equiped with a variety of vehicles, and opearting in battalion sized units. Nigerian security forces are typically outnumbered and outgunned when confronting Boko Haram. By 2013 the Nigerian government realized that it required a counterinsurgency strategy rather than treating it simply as a criminal organization.

Boko Haram is a very well-funded organization, with many sources of income including in Nigeria and that whole region. It does get money from piracy, especially from the west coast of Africa. Drug trafficking helps. Boko Haram’s expenses are considerably smaller than for a regular army. Mostly the militants need money for weapons, which are increasingly available and cheap as unrest in other parts of Africa and the Middle East have created an arms trafficking “highway.” Bank robberies and stealing from the Nigerian military are other ways Boko Haram has paid its bills. But it is difficult to pinpoint details of the funding, just as it is hard to know what the group stands for, how big it is or who its leaders are.

Ordinary Nigerians find it difficult to figure out Boko Haram sponsors due to the nature of their victims who cut across all segments and strata of the Nigerian society. Several conspiracy theories have been expressed, and many of them are just laughable. Some believe it is the northern elders who created Boko Haram in order to make the country “ungovernable” for Jonathan. According to another point of view it is the Igbo who have been exploring ways to take revenge for what the northerners did to them during the Nigerian Civil War. Some say it is you, others say it is Jonathan. There are also some other theories.

2015, Boko Haram

On 04 January 2015, Boko Haram seized the town of Baga and the local military base. The group is already controlling 16 neighboring towns, Mr Bukar said. Nigerian lawmaker Maina Maaji Lawan told BBC that Boko Haram controlled 70% of the Borno State.

According to the officials, the raids on the civilian population in the town of Baga began late on Tuesday 06 January and continued through Wednesday 07 January. Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior government official in the area, told the BBC that the town had been burnt down. He also said that the fleeing residents had been unable to bury the dead, and corpses littered the town's streets. According to the official, more than 2,000 people were killed in the raids but other reports put the number in the hundreds.

The violence in Baga was astounding, even for Boko Haram. But it was no accident that Boko Haram picked the town of Baga to attack in Nigeria’s northeast, routing the military and torching the fishing community. The town’s strong vigilante groups may have made it a target. Baga had been the scene of several violent incidents during the insurgency. As the threat of Boko Haram increased, vigilante groups known as the Civilian Joint Task Force formed in the region. They were successful in keeping the town safe from Boko Haram insurgents.

Baga was not the only town with a civilian Joint Task Force presence. In November 2014, Boko Haram raided the town of Damasak, killing 50 people in what locals say was retaliation against the town’s vigilante group. Boko Haram fears the civilian JTF more than the army.

In January 2015 Niger, Cameroon and Chad launched a regional military campaign to help Nigeria defeat the Boko Haram insurgency. Chad deployed troops in support of Cameroonian efforts to stop repeated cross-border raids by the Islamists, whose operations increasingly threaten Nigeria's neighbors. The African Union authorized the creation of the regional force, which will also include Benin, and pushed for a UN Security Council mandate for the operation.

By the beginning of 2015, Boko Haram controlled an area about the size of Maryland, including nearly two dozen municipalities in Borno. In January, the group seized Baga, on the Chadian border, and overran a military base used by a joint Nigerian, Chadian and Niger military task force. Nigerian officials reported that thousands of civilians may have been slaughtered, as people were driven to the shores Lake Chad, fleeing by motorized longboats. In early February, Nigerian military officials announced they couldn’t ensure the security of national elections, and the vote was delayed until March 28.

The renewed offensive by the Nigerian military and troops from neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger put considerable pressure on Boko Haram. Nigeria’s military recaptured a string of towns from the militants, including Baga, where the extremists overran a military base and carried out a massacre.

A March 2015 audio message purported to be from the leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledging allegiance to the Syria- and Iraq-based Islamic State. The jihadist monitoring group SITE on 07 March 2015 quoted Shekau as saying, "We announce our allegiance to the Caliph."

The Nigerian military said March 13, 2015 troops had freed the last area held by Boko Haram militants in northeastern Adamawa state. The military said that troops on Thursday cleared insurgents out of Madagali, an area near the Nigerian-Cameroon border. There was no independent verification of the report.

Jonathan and other government sources acknowledged that non-African military personnel also were involved. Jonathan described the personnel as trainers, but Nigerian troops said that many had taken part in the fighting. The foreigners reportedly came from South Africa, Britain and Ukraine. Nigeria brought in hundreds of mercenaries from South Africa and the former Soviet Union to give its offensive against Boko Haram a boost. Security and diplomatic sources put the total much higher than the hundred or so previously reported. The foreign troops were said to be linked to the leaders of former South African private military firm Executive Outcomes.

US assistance had included training, such as the Flintlock exercises. The 2015 regional exercise just wrapped in Chad, and it included regional troops headed off to fight Boko Haram inside and along the borders of Nigeria as part of an ongoing regional offensive.

In April 2015 Boko Haram renamed itself Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP) as militants launch new offensive against government forces. The diffuse organisation appeared to continue to operate under its official name Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, Arabic for “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad”.Boko Haram, a nickname for the group meaning “Western education is forbidden”, had been used since the group was formed in 2002 when that was its main focus.

Nigeria freed another 234 women and children from the Sambisa forest 30 April 2015, considered a bastion of armed group Boko Haram. The defence headquarters said that the hostages were rescued in the Kawuri and Konduga end of the forest located in the country's north east neighboring Chad. The Nigerian military reported rescuing almost 300 women and children in the Sambisa Forest on 28 April 2015 after deploying ground troops into the forest more than a week earlier. Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan said that the Sambisa Forest was the last refuge for the group, and he pledged to "hand over a Nigeria completely free of terrorist strongholds."

On August 13, 2015 Nigeria's president ordered the military to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency within three months. President Muhammadu Buhari spoke in Abuja as he swore in four new military chiefs. Buhari replaced the heads of the army, navy, air force and his chief of defense staff soon after taking office May 29, in an effort to re-energize the fight against Boko Haram. The militants had killed nearly 1,000 Nigerians in raids and suicide attacks since Buhari was inaugurated.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said 23 December 2015 his country has 'technically' won the war against Boko Haram, in comments issued days before his self-imposed deadline for defeating the militant group. Buhari told British radio that Boko Haram is no longer capable of carrying out conventional attacks against security forces or population centers. He said they have now 'reverted' to using improvised explosive devices instead.

Join the mailing list