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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. By 2021 more than 30,000 people had been killed in over a decade of terrorism in Nigeria by the Boko Haram Takrifi group, which has spilled over into neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon and has forced more than two million people to flee their homes.

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram terrorist group, is said to have committed suicide in battle around 18 May 2021. Shekau was the longest-serving leader of any Islamic jihadist group in the world. Several times in the past, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was declared dead, only to reappear in videos taunting the government of Nigeria. Boko Haram's rival, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), claimed that Shekau detonated a suicide vest during a gunfight in Sambisa forest on 18 May 2021, to avoid being taken prisoner and made to renounce the leadership of his group. Far from solving a problem for the Nigerian government, his death is likely to further destabilize the region.

On 17 June 2021 Boko Haram confirmed the death of its notorious ringleader Abubakar Shekau. In a short video message, Boko Haram's top militant commander Bakura Modu, also known as Sahaba, was seen surrounded by militants while addressing the camera as the new leader of the Takfiri outfit, urging his militants to stay loyal to the group.

In the early months of 2021, its commanders have been arrested. Most have either accepted the leadership of ISWAP, or they've been killed. And in the last couple of years, the number of followers in Shekau's camp had been dwindling at a steady rate, while ISWAP has had no trouble finding recruits. ISWAP concentrates on attacking the central government's security forces and institutions and has loudly condemned Shekau's reign of indiscriminate terror.

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 carried out the 2014 kidnap of over 200 girls from a school in the north-eastern town Chibok. Since then, about half those girls were found or freed, dozens paraded in propaganda videos and an unknown number are believed dead.

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.

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Page last modified: 24-06-2021 17:49:00 ZULU