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Boko Haram

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 is responsible for thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria over the last several years including targeted killings of civilians. Boko Haram has 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 is building about the seeming inability of the Nigerian government to mount a coherent response to Boko Haram’s audacious attacks. Nigerians are 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.

Boko Haram - 2014

The year 2014 saw a dramatic uptick in Boko Haram kidnappings as the sect seized territory in the northeast. The sect also grabbed women and girls, forcing them into marriage or labor in its camps, and conscripted men into its ranks. The captives can be seen as a form of “bounty” or “reward” for fighters. “They see potential future soldiers in the boys. They see future wives in the girls and they see current wives in the older women.

Amnesty International said 1,500 people were killed in the first three months of 2014 in an escalating armed conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and Nigerian security forces. Amnesty said March 30, 2014 that more than half the victims were civilians. Amnesty International calls the rising number of Boko Haram attacks “truly shocking” and the reaction of Nigerian security forces “brutality.” The rights group said both sides may have committed acts that “may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity." It called for an investigation by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the UN Human Rights Council.

The Nigerian Special Forces involved in the ongoing campaign against the Boko Haram insurgents recorded what security sources described as one the greatest breakthroughs in the campaign against terrorists in the North-East in March 2014. The Special Forces, comprising ground troops and the Air Force fighters, had demobilized one of the strongest fortresses of the Boko Haram sect. The soldiers, who carried out the operation, were shocked by the volume of arms and ammunition and hundreds of operational vehicles that they captured at the camp. A source put the number of vehicles captured from the insurgents at 700.

Boko Haram said it carried out the deadly bombing in the capital, Abuja, that killed at least 71 people on 14 April 2014. Nigerians' confidence in the government and the military's ability to deal with Boko Haram has reached a new low. The Nyanya bus station bombing was Boko Haram's first major attack in the capital in two years, something regional analysts say show its capabilities remain intact despite the almost year-long military offensive against the rebels. Most of Boko Haram's attacks take place in the far northeast. Analysts also say the size and sophistication of the blast suggest the militants have strengthened their connections abroad.

Also on 14 April 2014, Boko Haram abducted more than 300 schoolgirls from their dormitory in Chibok in Borno State in northern Nigeria. Some escaped, but the kidnappers held more than 270 girls. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened in a video to sell the girls “on the market.” The Nigerian government was widely criticized for not doing enough to find and free these girls. The 30 or so military personnel stationed in Chibok at the time of the abductions put up a fight, but there were too many well-armed extremists.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a new video message on May 5, 2014, in which he threatened to sell the more than 200 teenage schoolgirls the group abducted in April. “By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace,” he threatened in the hour-long video.

Hundreds of people were feared dead after militants attacked a town in northeastern Nigeria 06 May 2014, setting fire to homes and businesses and shooting residents as they tried to escape. Local officials say suspected Boko Haram militants stormed the town of Gamboru Ngala, on the border with Cameroon, and destroyed it during an attack that lasted several hours. Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper cited residents as saying the attackers burned down more than 250 homes and the town's biggest market, along with a police station. So far in 2014, the group had been responsible for some 1,500 deaths.

Nigerian officials denied a report that 15 officers, including 10 generals, had been court martialed for cooperating with Boko Haram militants. The Leadership newspaper reported the officers were found guilty of giving information and ammunition to the radical Islamist group, which is blamed for thousands of deaths over the past five years. On 04 June 2014, two officials, military spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade and government communications official Mike Olmeri, told VOA the report was "not true."

Fulan Nasrullah of Fulan’s SITREP wrote in August 2014 that "The strategic reasoning behind the current offensive of the Boko Haram/Yusufiyya in Northern Cameroon and WarZone South is simple. The insurgents are creating ’liberated’ territory inside Nigeria, and establishing their authority on the ground. And after realizing that their policy of not antagonizing Yauonde was not paying off (since Cameroon under intense French, American and Nigerian pressure has been preparing to flush out the rear bases of Ansorul-Muslimiin and Harakatul-Muhajiriin from its territory), the insurgents have opened a second front in Cameroon and are carrying out a long prepared contingency plan to destabilize Northern Cameroon and secure their rear bases... To be able to transition from insurgent forces to parallel states (like Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communists did in Yunnan during the Chinese Civil War and World War II), the rebels need to be able to move their camps and forces from Cameroon back cross the border to Nigeria..."

Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at risk analysis firm Red24, noted that “Since April, Boko Haram has begun appropriating and holding territory within north-eastern Nigeria, particularly within the state of Borno. At the time of writing, Boko Haram has effectively seized control of the Gwoza, Bama and Damboa Local Government Areas (LGAs), raising the Rayat al-Uqab (Black Standard) flags within these areas. Most of the LGAs in the state, bar perhaps Maiduguri and a few surrounding areas, are currently being contested between government forces and the extremist movement.”

In late August 2014 the leader of Boko Haram, Abubaker Shekau, proclaimed an Islamic caliphate in the north eastern Nigerian town of Gwoza, which was seized by the Islamic militants earlier in August. The United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) confirmed reports that Gwoza was under Boko Harem control. In a 52-minute video, Shekau said: “Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate, by the grace of Allah we will not leave the town. We have come to stay.” Boko Haram is also believed to be in control of other areas of north eastern Nigeria including the southern part of Borno state as well as much of the territory of northern Borno and one town in neighboring Yobe state. Experts have said the gains made by the Islamic group in recent weeks are unprecedented and they are close to creating an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria, mirroring what IS, the Islamic State, has done in Iraq and Syria.

More than 130 members of Boko Haram surrendered to Nigeria's military on 24 September 2014. Mohammed Bashir, a man who had posed as the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau in numerous videos, was also been killed in clashes, the military said. Defence spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade said: “In the course of those encounters, one Mohammed Bashir, who has been acting or posing on videos as the deceased Abubakar Shekau ... known as leader of the group, died.”

In August 2014, Nigeria's military said Shekau may have died of gunshot wounds some weeks after a clash with soldiers. Following the reports, the man appearing in Boko Haram videos appeared to look different, with a rounder, less narrow face and a wider nose. Following the surrender, Nigeria's military released photographs of dozens of detainees sitting on the floor and the alleged body of the leader. A video of the dead commander surfaced on the internet. In the six-second video, the critically wounded ‘Shekau’ was seen lying on the ground writhing in pains as men in military uniform and civilians surround him with some voices saying, “Waste that man! Waste that man!”

Military experts were trying to ascertain whether the dead ‘Shekau’ was Isa Damsaka or Bashir Mohammed, who are both top commanders believed to be posing as Shekau. The security agencies claimed Isa Damsaka or Bashir Mohammed had been mimicking the real Abubakar Shekau, said to have been killed since June 2013. “Since the name Shekau has become a brand name for the terrorists’ leader, the Nigerian military remains resolute to serve justice to anyone who assumes that designation or title," Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade said.

The Australian negotiator, Dr. Stephen Davis, who claims to have worked closely with Abubakar Shekau, said "The fake Skekau is Isa Damsaka. It was confirmed to me by Boko Haram that he was killed in the recent military engagement at Konduga. Most members of Boko Haram have never seen Shekau. They believe what they have been told that Shekau is their leader. The real Shekau is dead. The Shekau the world has been seeing in videos is a “fake” and Boko Haram fighters have been fooled. They have followed blindly. ... Boko Haram leaders have been using him for quite some time to make their propaganda videos. The script is written for him by another commander which he then reads as he delivers his message on-camera.”

Prominent Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkid, who had gotten closer to Boko Haram than any other reporter, expressed skepticism about Shekau’s reported death. “Mark my words: I have it on authority that Shekau is well & alive. The picture going round is NOT the person who torments us with his group.” He later added: “So Shekau has a double? So it was his double who I met during the failed attempt to negotiate an end to the plight of the [abducted Chibok] girls? Oh, Nigeria.”

On 17 October 2014 the Nigerian government said Boko Haram had agreed to a cease-fire and the release of 219 schoolgirls kidnapped by the militants in April from the town of Chibok. Subsequently, talks centered on freeing the more than 200 schoolgirls and enforcing the cease-fire agreement. But the large number of kidnappings and deadly attacks since the announcement raised questions about whether all factions of the militant group were on board with the agreement.

In a new video released 01 November 2014, the person identified as Abubakar Shekau said the group is interested in fighting and killing its foes, not in negotiations. He said the issue of the girls taken from Chibok village has been "long forgotten" by Boko Haram. The militant seen in the video said Boko Haram has not negotiated with the government and will not enter any talks. The main claiming to be Shekau said he does not know who supposedly represented the militants in talks with the government.

Suspected Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 100 people 14 December 2014 from the village of Gumsuri, Nigeria, after raiding the town and killing 35 other residents, according to survivors of the attack. They said those taken are primarily women and children. Reports of how many people were taken from the Borno state village of Gumsuri range from "more than a 100" to as many as 185. If confirmed, it could be one of Boko Haram's largest kidnappings to date. Local hunters and civilian vigilantes in Gumsuri had "repelled" Boko Haram in previous clashes and killed some militants. Boko Haram is known to come back for revenge.

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