Boko Haram is one of the Islamic extremist groups that are currently terrorizing different parts of the world. It is based in Nigeria and has since its establishment launched numerous attacks against civilians, the police and the military officers. Boko Haram takes responsibility for the lives of thousands of people. This paper examines the group to determine its historical background, goals, objectives, tactics and methods of operations. Lastly, it will establish the current threat posed by the group to the United States.
Boko Haram, referred to themselves as al-Wilayat al-Islamiyya Gharb Afriqiyyah (Islamic State West Africa Province) and Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad) is an Islamicradical group based in northeastern Nigeria. It is also active in Northern Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. The group is alleged to have associations with other Islamic extremist groups in other parts of the world. Boko Haram is interpreted to mean “Western education is sinful” and was founded by Mohammed Yusuf, an Islamist cleric, in response to Nigeria’s Western influence, nationalism, and democratic transition (Pham, 2012).
Prior to colonization and subsequent annexation into the British Empire in the 19th century as colonial Nigeria, the Bornu Empire governed the territory currently claimed by Boko Haram. Traditionally, the territory was a sovereign sultanate and was run in accordance to the ideologies of Constitution of Medina. In 1903, both the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno Emirate came under the British rule (Asuelime & David, 2015). At the same time, Christian missionaries entered the region to spread the Christian message and had great success in converting individuals from Muslim to Christianity. Nigeria gained independence in 1960 which ended British’s occupation of the area. Since 1966, Nigeria was governed by a series of military dictatorship until the advent of democracy in 1999, with the exceptions of a short period of civilian rule between 1979 and 1983 (Melvin, 2016). Ethnic militancy is believed to have been the main cause of the 1967-1970 civil wars. In the decades after the end of the British occupation, academicians, and politicians from the Islamic North have expressed their opposition to Western education. Boko Haram was established to end behaviors and cultures that were brought about through the British rule and Western education (Asuelime & David, 2015).
Mohammed Yusuf founded a group that became Boko Haram in 2002. His activities started in Maiduguri which is a town in the northeastern state of Borno. Yusuf established a school and complex that attracted deprived Muslim families across Nigeria as well as neighboring countries such as Cameroon and Niger (Zuru & Abdullahi Bintube, 2014). The political goal behind the establishment of the center was to create an Islamic state and later became the recruiting ground for jihadists. By denouncing state and police corruption, Yusuf found it very easy to attract followers, especially from unemployed youth. It is believed that the founder saw an opportunity regarding public outrage at increased government corruption and linked the same with Western influence in governance. He used Izala Society which is a popular conservative Islamic sect to recruit more followers before he broke away and to focus on his group. Originally, Izala was welcomed into the government as well as individual sympathetic to Yusuf (Smith, 2014). At first, Boko Haram conducted its activities in a peaceful manner. However, after seven years of operations, Yusuf left the society and settled in remote northeastern areas. The government ignored warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organization until it started launching lethal attacks (Comolli, 2015).
Goals and Objectives
Various factors contributed to the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Poor governance, persistent economic hardship, corruption, and increased inequality played an integral role in the growth of the radical group (Campbell, 2015). Studies have found that the three primary reasons as to why young people join the group are poverty and unemployment, lack of awareness of authentic teaching of Islam, and manipulation by extremist religious leaders (Zuru & Abdullahi Bintube, 2014). At first, the leadership of the group convinced young people to join it by promising a better Nigeria through ending the social, economic, and political challenges that they were currently facing. However, this did not last for long as it became apparent that the group was more interested in the establishment of an Islamic state and strict sharia rule in the northern region of the country where the majority of citizens confess Islam as their religion. Despite the 12 states in the region implementing sharia governance, the extremist group believes that they are too lenient and violate Islam laws and practices (Akpan, Ekanem, & Olofu-Adeoye, 2014).
Islamist ideology maintains that Muslims are obligated to wage jihad until all territories once under the Muslim rule is returned. Boko Haram views itself as a successor of Usman Dan Fodio which once ruled parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger from 1804 until the British Empire overthrew it in 1904 (Akpan, Ekanem, & Olofu-Adeoye, 2014). It also regards the present day Sultan of Sokoto as an un-Islamic considering he cooperates with the government and wishes for a peaceful Nigeria. In its view, the Sultan is a traitor as he does not seem to agree with its ideologies and strategies used to handle issues or fight for rights. Boko Haram is more interested in concentrating religious power in its hands. Fundamentally, it seeks to end Christianity in the Northern Nigeria region and beyond. Christians are deemed non-believers who must be killed or converted to Muslim (Comolli, 2015). Like all Islamists, Boko Haram is interested in bringing humanity under sharia governance. The founder was quoted on several occasions arguing that sharia should be established in Nigeria and if possible the entire world (Asuelime & David, 2015).
Tactics and Methods of Operations
Ever since its establishment, Boko Haram has applied different tactics to realize its goals and objectives. The group recruits new members to carry out its activities such as terrorist attacks (Melvin, 2016). Traditionally, the group feed on poverty, hopelessness, and high unemployment in Northern Nigeria to recruit new members as well as promote their agenda on the need for the establishment of a sharia law and an Islamic state. However, it has since changed the strategy as it now selects new recruits through force. Specifically, it forces young men in areas where it concurs to join the sect. Women and children are either abducted or killed in raids (Bloom & Matfess, 2016). In the same way, young men who show unwillingness to join its course are killed. Boko Haram leaders manipulate young men into believing the group’s ideologies. For instance, they are meant to believe that by killing Christians, they are doing Allah’s will. Leaders in the group also blame Western education for the current problems facing Nigeria. Their aim is to rally people against the influence the Western nations have in Nigeria. Government intervention and the support it gets from the public have made it hard for the group to recruit new members. However, critics argue that the social and economic situation in the northern part of the country is still a challenge as Boko Haram leaders still use this to attract more members. The use of force is still prevalent (Zuru & Abdullahi Bintube, 2014).
Boko Haram utilizes different methods to force the government to accept or give in to its demands. At first, it attacked Nigerian government institutions such as police stations, military barracks, and security officers. The first large-scale attack was launched in 2010. The group was seeking revenge for the death of the founder Yusuf who was killed in 2009 along with hundreds of followers. For example, the group raided a prison in Bauchi and managed to free over 700 prisoners (Smith, 2014). Since then, the group started targeting civilians in churches, bus stations, mosques, and schools. For instance, it bombed several churches in 2010 killing a number of people. It does not distinguish between Muslims and Christians (Homeland Security Committee, 2016). In essence, it considers everyone collateral damage in its raids or attacks. Such strategies seek to intimidate not only the government but also the public. Some members have joined the group for fear of being attacked. Evidently, Nigerians fear to talk about Boko Haram or to utter the name in public as they fear retaliation from members of the group. The government has responded to different attacks launched by the group to handle the problem once and for all. However, Boko Haram has proved its resilience as, despite its sites or staging areas being bombed, it is still able to regroup and create more havoc (Melvin, 2016).
Different tactics are also utilized to gain access to weaponry and heavy machinery. Members purchase armaments from other terrorists in the region as well as the neighboring countries. Other terror groups around the globe are also believed to provide Boko Haram with the heavy artilleries used to attack military bases, government institutions, and civilians. This is evident considering the organization is linked with al-Qaida among other terror groups (Comolli, 2015). Other than purchasing and receiving weapons from other groups, Boko Haram uses attacks to collect what it needs to realize its goals. For instance, the attack on the military bases and police officers give it the opportunity to access heavy machinery used to bomb different places including churches and the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Abuja (Zuru & Abdullahi Bintube, 2014). The government’s efforts to retrieve the stolen weapons are yet to bear fruits as it only manages to take weapons from killed terrorists. Those who manage to escape disappear with weapons that they later use for further attacks. Sympathizers to the group’s activities also make it easy for it to access more weapons after a raid from the government (Campbell, 2015).
Boko Haram operates as a guerrilla/insurgency force with different units carrying varied attacks. Each has membership ranging from 300 to 500 fighters (Akpan, Ekanem, & Olofu-Adeoye, 2014). Attacks are planned in advanced with each unit having its target. With such an approach, this makes it hard for the government to stop all attacks at once giving the group an advantage. Nevertheless, the Nigerian government has displayed the ability to adapt to the tactics and using every means possible to bring peace to the northern part and the rest of the country. The group carries out acts of terrorism and has taken responsibility for different attacks that led to the loss of lives and damage to property. However, it also tries to establish authority and control its territories (Comolli, 2015). Its leadership is known for applying an iron fist strategy to maintain their power. They have gone to the extent of killing rivals and not permitting commanders from gaining any publicity. Only the leaders are allowed to show their faces in videos when the group is taking responsibility for heinous acts or communicating its plans. The approach is used to ensure Boko Haram remains robust and powerful and that no other group is formed to challenge its agendas (Smith, 2014).
Collaboration with other terror groups has enabled Boko Haram to achieve its aims. It is evident that the group has not shown a keen interest in expanding its activities to the global market. Nonetheless, this has not deterred it from allying with terror groups in other countries, both in Africa and beyond (Melvin, 2016). It has been associated with al-Qaida, Al Shabaab, and Izala Society. This is a strategy the organization has applied since it was founded a decade ago. Notably, its founder allied with Izala Society which has received recognition from the government (Akpan, Ekanem, & Olofu-Adeoye, 2014). This was done to enhance awareness of the activities of the group and what it intended to achieve. In essence, Izala Society was used as a platform to propel the extremist group. The approach worked as it soon reached high membership which led to the founder choosing to exit the Society and work independently. Boko Haram borrows ideologies from terror groups that share its goal. By establishing close links with some of them, this makes it easy for it to achieve its objectives as well as get the support and resources needed for different purposes (Comolli, 2015).
Regarding funding, the Islamic extremist group access funds from AQIM (Comolli, 2015). In addition, the group robs banks and communities to get the cash needed for various activities including feeding and sheltering its fighters. More recently, the group has been conducting ransom operations by kidnapping individuals and demanding payoffs from their families and friends. These activities have affected both foreigners and locals. They threaten to kill a person they kidnap unless a ransom payment is made (Pham, 2012). Allegations have been made that Boko Haram also receives payment from a particular group of Nigerian elites in exchange for avoiding attacks. Some elites are also believed to make payments to the group to direct attacks to other people of interest to the payers. These are some of the challenges that make it hard for the country to display unity against the group. Individuals are busy playing the blame game when they should be looking for ways to counter the strategies laid down by the group (Comolli, 2015).
Current Threat to the United States
There are fears that Boko Haram is likely to pose a threat to the United States and its allies (Homeland Security Committee, 2016). The suicide attack on the UN facility in Nigeria was a clear proof that the group has intentions to harm Western nations and its people. The US is seen as a clear target for such attacks considering its involvement in trying to bring peace in the northern Nigeria and end the group. The risk of the group launching on the US homeland is very high. In essence, members of the group can make this decision to revenge for the losses it has suffered as a result of the US involvement in dealing with it. Traditionally, the group was only interested in making the northern region an Islamic state and hence was less interested in expanding its affairs internationally. However, its attacks on various African countries show that the goal has since changed and that it has intentions to expand its ideologies. As such, the United States must stay on alert for the activities the group. Currently, its operations have been suppressed by the military. Nevertheless, the chances of it re-emerging are very high (Campbell, 2015).
As mentioned earlier, the group has been creating links with other extremists groups to achieve its objectives with ease. Its defeats in the recent years can see it strengthen its ties with groups such as Al Qaida. Equally, it can create links with more groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to strengthen its capabilities (Melvin, 2016). Al Qaida and ISIS are sworn enemies of the United States. With Boko Haram joining their ranks, the risk of the group attacking the country is very high. Nevertheless, the United States intelligence groups can manage to stop similar attacks but staying vigilant and acting on information provided by different sources to mitigate risks and prevent attacks before they happen. In general, the United States has been at the forefront in trying to end terror groups and bringing their members to justice. As such, it is always a target for notorious extremist groups that wish to make a statement or launch an attack that will have a global impact (Campbell, 2015).
The threat of the group attacking the US embassies in other countries is also high. Specifically, it can choose to attack embassies in Africa with the intentions of killing the US citizens among other civilians working in the consulates. The attack on the United Nation’s facility in Nigeria shows that the group is capable of engaging in similar acts (Asuelime & David, 2015). This means that as the US government came up with plans to ensure homeland security, it should also guarantee the safety of its citizens working in various capacities across the globe (Melvin, 2016).
Boko Haram is an Islamic radical group based in northeastern Nigeria. The group was established to force the government into declaring the northern region of the country an Islamic state. However, its efforts have failed to bear fruits as the government is committed to ending its activities and arresting all members associated with it. Boko Haram has in the past attacked police officers, civilians, military bases, and churches to achieve its goals and objectives. This has resulted in the death of thousands of people, especially in the northern region. It has also attacked the UN facilities as a way of showing its disregard for Western nations’ presence in the country. The group is associated with terror group globally including Al Qaida and Al Shabaab. Currently, it is feared that Boko Haram poses a threat to the United States’ homeland security. The US has been on the front line in trying to dismantle groups such as Boko Haram. It has also helped in efforts to track kidnappers and launch attacks against the group. With this being the case, the risk of the country being attacked as a result of acts of revenge or retaliation is high.
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