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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.

2016 - Boko Haram

A February 2015 video was the last time Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was seen publicly. His absence since sparked rumors about his death or that he’s been replaced, suggesting that Boko Haram was not as strong as it once was, despite numerous suicide bombings and attacks in early 2016. But the continued lack of solid intelligence on Shekau’s whereabouts is troublesome, and indicating the Nigerian military's deep lack of resources and organization, and underscoring just how much further it has to go to defeat Boko Haram entirely.

Boko Haram had killed some 20,000 people and displaced more than 2 million more since Shekau launched the brutal insurgency in 2009.

In early 2016 there was a spike in Boko Haram activities within northeastern Nigeria but also in surrounding countries. In addition to the attacks in Dalori which is located about 10 km (6 miles) outside Borno state's capital Maiduguri, there was also a Boko Haram attack in Cameroon, in the extreme north province, in the Lac region of Chad, and also a few other bombings specifically in Gombe in Adamawa state.

All of these attacks seemingly targeted civilian interests within the region. So the attack in Dalori in itself marked a shift away from Boko Haram’s usual modus operandi; a lot of the sect's violence within the past 2-3 years has specifically targeted soft civilian population centers in armed raids, in addition to suicide bombings targeting bustling market places and even public transportation hubs.

In late March 2016 hundreds of hostages were freed in one Nigerian state, but more than a dozen new hostages were seized in a neighboring state. The captives were all held in Nigeria's Borno state, which borders Chad and Niger. At least 520 were freed in the village of Kusumma, and 300 more from 11 other villages that were controlled by the militants.

In August 2016 the Islamic State militant group named Abu Musab al-Barnawi as its "Wali" (governor) of its West African Province. The article didn't say so explicitly, but the implication was that al-Barnawi had replaced Abubakar Shekau, the bombastic preacher who had led the group since 2009. Al-Barnawi also reportedly released an audio statement attacking Shekau.

A man claiming to be Shekau responded to this so-called attempted coup with a 10-minute audio statement of his own, briefly posted on YouTube before it was taken down. In the statement, Shekau reasserted his authority over Boko Haram and said that al-Barnawi, a long-time member of the group, is trying to stir up conflict. Shekau accused IS of staging a coup against his leadership. The apparent leadership struggle sparked concerns of an ideological split that could lead to a surge in violence in northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.

Al-Barnawi is said, by some, to be the son of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009; but, that was up for debate. "In choosing one of Yusuf's sons, the Islamic State has shown they understand the importance of continuity of a local vision to their allies," wrote Nigerian analyst Andrew Walker, the author of Eat the Heart of the Infidel. "Concern will intensify that al-Barnawi and his IS backers will take a more international, outward-looking path." The new leader who is vowing to bomb churches and kill all Christians. Under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram has been known to kill not only Christians but also Muslims who oppose the terrorist group. Al-Barnawi, who was formerly believed to be just the group's spokesman, vowed to end attacks on mosques and vowed to attack more churches.

Nigeria’s Air Force on 23 August 2016 claimed to have “fatally wounded” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and several other high-ranking members of the group in air strikes carried out against the terrorist organization’s headquarters. Sani Usman, a spokesman for the Nigerian Air Force said in a statement that Shekau was “fatally wounded in the shoulder” when government planes bombed the Boko Haram jungle stronghold in the Sambisa Forest. Other Boko Haram leaders killed in the raid, according to Usman, include Abubakar Mubi, Malam Nuhu and Malam Hamman. Several others were confirmed wounded. Nigeria had previously claimed to have killed Shekau, but those claims were later thrown into doubt when video surfaced showing a man claiming to be Shekau alive and well.

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