Boko Haram, which emerged over a decade ago as a small Sunni Islamic sect advocating a strict interpretation and implementation of Islamic law for Nigeria, has grown since 2010 into one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups. Calling itself
Jama’a Ahl as-Sunna Li-da’wa wa-al Jihad (roughly translated from Arabic as “People Committed to the Propagation of the
Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”), the group is more popularly known as Boko Haram (often translated as “Western education is
forbidden”), a nickname given by local Hausa-speaking communities to describe the group’s view that Western education and culture have been corrupting influences that are haram (“forbidden”). Boko Haram currently appears to pose a threat primarily to local stability in Nigeria and to state and international targets, including Western citizens, in the region. Civilians in the
impoverished, predominately Muslim northeast have borne the brunt of the violence. The group conducted its first lethal attack against Western interests on August 26, 2011, with the deadly bombing of the United Nations building in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. There has been a dramatic increase in attacks in 2014, including multiple bombings in Abuja and the abduction of almost 300 girls from a school in the northeast town of Chibok. In mid-2014 the group began an effort to seize territory in the northeast Nigerian state of Borno.
A splinter faction, Ansaru (aka Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan, or Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa), emerged in 2012. It was publicly critical of Boko Haram’s killing of Muslim civilians and appeared focused on government and foreign targets. Several kidnappings attributed to the group resulted in the killing of foreign hostages. Ansaru has claimed no recent attacks, and the extent to which it currently operates independently from or cooperates with Boko Haram is unclear.
Abubakar Shekau is Boko Haram’s most visible leader. He succeeded the group’s original leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody after a July 2009 security crackdown.
Boko Haram’s leaders have publicly called for an uprising against secular authority and a war against Christianity, and purportedly seek to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria. To elicit recruits and sympathizers, the group draws on a narrative of resentment and vengeance against state abuses, and its attacks appear aimed at undermining the government’s control over
the northern part of the country
Areas of Operation
Boko Haram attacks have been primarily concentrated in northeast Nigeria, but the group has claimed responsibility for attacks across north and central Nigeria. Several attacks in 2014, however, have reportedly extended as far south as Lagos. Security forces from neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger have increasingly clashed with the group as it has crossed Nigeria’s borders into northern Cameroon and the Lake Chad Basin area. The group has conducted kidnapping operations targeting European citizens in northern Cameroon since early 2013.
Attacks against U.S. interests
In public statements issued in July 2010, Boko Haram threatened to attack Western interests in Nigeria and expressed solidarity with Al Qaeda. The group has made subsequent threats against the United States. To date, neither Boko Haram nor Ansaru have conducted a successful attack against an American target.
Size, Financing, and Capabilities
The State Department estimates Boko Haram’s membership to range from the hundreds to a few thousand. The group appears to fund its operations largely through criminal activity, including bank robberies, kidnappings, assassinations for hire,
trafficking, and various types of extortion.
Relationship with Al Qaeda and AQ Affiliates
The Obama Administration does not currently consider Boko Haram to be affiliated with Al Qaeda’s central leadership, despite periodic rhetorical pledges of solidarity and support for Al Qaeda and its affiliates from Shekau. Shekau
has also expressed support for Islamic State leader Baghdadi, although such statements do not appear, to date, to indicate allegiance or practical affiliation. Reports suggest possible communications, funding, training, and weapons
links between Boko Haram, Ansaru, AQIM, AQAP, and Al Shabaab.
Source: US Congressional Research Service
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