*Created by ISVG’s Jonathan Epperson
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin”, began in the early 1990s but did not become as active as it currently is until around 2002. Boko Haram officially calls itself Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad which is Arabic for “group committed to propagating the Prophet’s teachings and jihad” . Boko Haram is modeled after Afghanistan’s Taliban and its goal is to create and implement a stricter form of Islamic Sharia law in Nigeria .
Although Boko Haram’s initial intentions were to bring change to Nigeria, the groups’ most recent string of attacks suggest that the group has been influenced by Al Qaeda affiliated groups and other regional situations in Africa. Government officials from the United States, Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria suggest that Boko Haram has been in collaboration with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is operational in northern African, and Al Shabaab in Somalia .
Boko Haram’s early targets often had links to the Nigerian government—including police officers, military personnel, and military facilities—banks, churches, markets, and schools . However, Boko Haram’s most recent attacks implemented the use of advanced bombs and military tactics that are similar to those previously used by both AQIM and Al Shabaab. The increase of militant activity carried out by Boko Haram could also be linked to the recent replacement of Muammar Gaddafi by the Libyan Transitional National Council and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In spite of the best intentions of the North African countries, many of Libya’s military weapons were smuggled out of Libya and have been distributed amongst Africa’s militant groups, including AQIM and Boko Haram .
Boko Haram’s first suspected Al Qaeda-influenced attack came on August 26, 2011, in Abuja, Nigeria, when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) into the United Nations headquarters, killing 24 people . This attack was believed to be the first suicide bombing committed in Nigeria. On November 4, 2011, Boko Haram launched a series of suicide bombings, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, and armed assaults that targeted Nigerian military buildings, police stations, banks, and several churches in Maiduguri and Damaturu, Nigeria . Nigerian official reports said that upwards of 100 people were killed in these attacks and several hundred were injured .
Boko Haram struck again on December 25, 2011, when churches in Madalla, Jos, Gadaka, and Damaturu, Nigeria, and the headquarters for the State Security Service (SSS) were targeted by suicide bombers and IED attacks. Nigerian officials reported that approximately 40 people were killed and almost 60 people were injured .
On January 20, 2012, at least 100 Boko Haram militants—many dressed in police uniforms—killed 170 people, including Nigerian police and soldiers, and injured upwards of 50 people during a string of bombings and armed assaults that targeted police stations, immigration offices, and the local headquarters for the SSS . After the attacks, Nigerian police discovered at least 10 additional VBIEDs and hundreds of other unexploded IEDs .
Boko Haram is believed to have received bomb assembly training at AQIM militant camps in Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Chad. It is further reported that Boko Haram learned how to make IEDs at Al Shabaab training camps in Somalia. In 2009, Abdul-Rasheed Abubakar, an alleged Boko Haram member, claimed that he and one other man had been sent by former Boko Haram leader Muhammad Yusuf to train with the Taliban in Afghanistan . Mamman Nur, the suspected second-in-command of Boko Haram and alleged Al Qaeda representative in Nigeria, returned from Somalia in July of 2011 . Nigerian security forces that are tasked with tracking Boko Haram members have informed reporters that for the last six years, small groups of Boko Haram members have traveled to AQIM-controlled areas of Africa to learn how to construct explosive devices . Most recently, Niger security forces arrested seven Boko Haram members traveling to Mali with possession of materials detailing the construction of explosive devices and the contact information of AQIM militants .
Although it is unknown the exact date that Boko Haram began to receive support from Al Qaeda-linked groups in Africa, there is a definitive time period when Boko Haram escalated the intensity of its attacks. The first known display of support to Boko Haram came from AQIM in the form of a eulogy following the death of Boko Haram’s leader, Muhammed Yusuf, in 2009 . In a statement released to reporters in February 2010, Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of AQIM, pledged his support to Boko Haram by supplying weapons and training to its militants. During a June 14, 2010, interview with an Al Jazera reporter, Droukdel said that giving Boko Haram weapons would increase Al Qaeda’s standing in Africa and it would help “defend Muslims in Nigeria and stop the advance of a minority of Crusaders” .
In an October 2010 post on a militant-supportive forum, a person named “Ansar AQIM” reported that “[t]he assistance from the commanders of AQIM has reached Nigeria. I can’t give any numbers of how many brothers from the Sahel region moved back to Nigeria to train the youth of the tawheed” . Boko Haram’s first known confirmation of militant support from an Al Qaeda supported group came in June 2011, when Boko Haram claimed that several of its fighters had recently returned from training with Al Shabaab in Somalia .
Boko Haram’s spokesman, Abul Qaqa, again reinforced Boko Haram’s links to Al Qaeda during a phone interview with reporters on November 24, 2011 . On January 28, 2012, the Guardian of London published an article detailing an interview with the recently arrested Qaqa. Qaqa stated that Boko Haram’s key leadership had traveled to Saudi Arabia in August 2011 to discuss financial and logistical operations with Al Qaeda leaders .
The logistical support and expertise offered by AQIM and Al Shabaab to Boko Haram in recent years may be having an impact on violence in the region. Over the past six months, the amount of violent events carried out by Boko Haram has increased significantly; the events themselves have become more deadly as well, according to ISVG data collected from open reports. Another possible indication that Al Qaeda’s influence is directly affecting the violence is the recent use of suicide bombers when carrying out attacks against government targets.
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