Boko Haram is a Nigerian based Islamic Jihadist terrorist organization that focuses on the elimination of all western education, influence and globalization. The objective of the organization is to establish Sharia law in the state of Nigeria. Boko Haram’s progression over the last decade evolved from a fundamentalist movement, to an aggressive insurgency. The insurgency is responsible for abductions, raids and thousands of deaths since 2009. Boko Haram is widely believed to be affiliated with several terrorist organizations across Africa and the Middle East including al Qaeda and AQIM, making them a transnational threat. Over the past five years the group has gained international attention due to their extreme measures and unforgiving methods. Nigeria, as well as the international community, are now faced with the ever growing challenge of confronting the issue through terrorist appeasement or by way of group elimination.
Boko Haram was officially created in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, the capital city of the northeastern Borno state.[i] However a direct connection can be made between the terrorist organization of Boko Haram, and the youth led group that arose in response to years of colonialism and westernization during the 1960’s. This group was known as the Shabaab Muslim Youth Organization, which at the time was led by Mallam Lawal. [ii] Lawal left in 1995 to continue his education in Saudi Arabia, handing the position over to Yusuf.[iii] By 2002 the focus of the group ascertained a politically based agenda, to establish Nigeria as an Islamic State and institute Sharia law.[iv] This resulted in clashes between the Muslim and Christian populations. Muslims make up close to fifty percent of the population, residing largely in the north, while an estimated forty percent of the population is Christian, predominately in southern part of the country.[v] The areas of extreme conflict are seen in the center north of the country in the Plateau state, where Muslim and Christian communities meet. The city of Jos in the northern part of the state of Plateau, has witnessed religious riots since 2001, and between 2011 and 2013, there have been an estimate 785 sectarian related deaths.[vi] Clashes such as these have rapidly increased across Nigeria, and are only further strained by the 250 different ethnic groups that are finding themselves caught in the religious struggle.[vii]
These skirmishes prompted government crack downs conducted through police brutality. The government reaction only exacerbated the radicalization and support for what has come to be known as Boko Haram.[viii] Boko Haram gained legitimacy as an organization through Mohammed Yusuf. He achieved support through his openly critical stance of the government, and the high corruption that further separated the wealthy from the impoverished.[ix] He established a religious complex, which encompassed a mosque as well an Islamic school. This institution attracted impoverished families from not only Nigeria but neighboring countries as well, where western education held less of a priority than religious practices.[x] The school essentially became a recruiting ground for jihadi supporters, and by 2009 the group turned to violent tactics to spread their message.
Boko Haram is widely considered to have been a fundamentalist movement until 2009. However, as early as 2003, splinter groups started conducting vastly violent attacks and abductions on policemen, stations and frequently civilians, largely in the states of Borno and Yobe.[xi] By 2005 Mohammed Yusuf was arrested by the Nigerian military along with other Boko Haram followers, who were then released in 2007 by the newly elected President, Umaru Yar’Adua.[xii] Then again in 2009, the Nigerian military raided a Boko Haram facility after receiving a tip that they were manufacturing bombs.[xiii] During the raid members of Boko Haram were killed, thus further influencing reprisal attacks.[xiv]Following the raid, Yusuf was arrested. According to police sources, he was killed in police custody during a shootout as he was trying to escape, however an investigation was never conducted. [xv] His disfigured body was shown on national television, with Nigerian leaders claiming the end of Boko Haram as an organization. However, the insurgency did not dissipate, but rather went underground and established a new leader, Abubakar Shekau.[xvi] The rise of Shekau defined Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
Since 2009 an estimated 3,600 people have been killed by the organization. [xvii] The modus operandi of the organization had shifted when they emerged in 2010 with more sophisticated weapons, operations, and the use of suicide bombers.[xviii] They became a nationwide threat and by 2010, Nigeria evoked a state of emergency.[xix] While the political goal of the group remained essentially unchanged, the implementation of Sharia Law; their methods altered drastically.
The notion of their core ideology, that western education is dogmatically wrong, is highlighted through the abductions and raids of private and public schools. They reject globalization and colonization, a further criticism of western ideologies. The basis of their campaign can be understood through the meaning of their name. Boko Haram is the Hausa translation of “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad”, which in Arabic means “People of the Profit for Teaching and Jihad”, loosely translating to “Western Education is Sin”.[xx] The word Haram refers to an act that is forbidden, or sinful.[xxi] However when it comes to the word Boko, there is often confusion for the clarity of the word. Boko derives from a term “ilimin boko”, a term used to describe western education, and over time this phrase was condensed down to Boko, simply referring to western education.[xxii] This is where we can find the meaning of Boko Haram as western education is sinful. By understanding the basic meaning of the group’s title, we can understand their inherent ideology.
The recent kidnappings of an estimated 200 Chibok school girls in the northern state of Borno, shocked Nigerian citizens, however when Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, threatened to sell the girls into slavery it became an international concern. On May 5th, 2014 Shekau released a statement saying “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah…he commands me to sell. I will sell women”.[xxiii] By May 12th, 2014, the severity of the situation furthered when he announced he would release the captured girls in exchange for the release of certain Islamic insurgents who are currently imprisoned.[xxiv] This exchange never occur, and the girls remain in the hands of the insurgency.
In addition to the abductions, Boko Haram adds to its use of fear by concealing themselves as Nigerian military. There are frequent accounts of insurgents wearing Nigerian military uniforms to hide their identities in order to approach civilians. On the night of the abduction of the Chibok school girls, Boko Haram militants arrived in military dress and informed the girls they were taking them to safety. After the girls had been rounded up, they fired their arms into the air and yelled “Allahu Akbar”, meaning God is great.[xxv] We have seen this tactic used many times in villages across the northeastern part of Nigeria, and as recently as June 2nd, when Boko Haram insurgents killed 200 civilians in three different communities.[xxvi] The militants frequently target remote areas, in response to the implementation of Emergency Rule in 2013.
On May 14th, 2013 Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan established a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.[xxvii] The Nigerian government deployed additional troops to the areas under threat to increase security and attempt to suppress terrorist activity. The Nigerian government largely pushed them into the northern regions of the country, mainly in the Borno State, however this has expanded Boko Haram’s presence in neighboring countries. The mountainous region of Chad has become a foothold for Boko Haram troops, while northern Cameroon is feeling the stain from village attacks on Cameroonian citizens.[xxviii]
On May 22nd of this year leaders from France, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin met for an Anti-Terrorism Summit in Paris to discuss tactics to combat Boko Haram terrorism.[xxix] However this issue has become even further escalated with the believed kidnapping of the Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister’s wife on the 27th of July, 2014 by Boko Haram militants.[xxx] There has been an increase in attacks and the targeting of civilians who are viewed as military vigilantes. United Nations representatives, politicians, students, Christians, certain Muslim clerics and health advocates, particularly those distributing polio vaccinations, have become primary targets.[xxxi] As of July 2014, Human Rights Watch estimates 2,053 civilian deaths and 70 village raids in 2014 alone.[xxxii]
The effects of Boko Haram are not only felt within the state of Nigeria, but in surrounding countries as well. They have become a part of the vast radical movement across the Middle East and Africa spreading Islamic extremism through the use of terror. This expansion has become an issue of combating jihadi terrorism and the links between these organizations. After 2009, members of Boko Haram were arrested in the state of Adamawa, Nigeria after which they admitted to training with members of the Taliban in Afghanistan.[xxxiii] They have further developed connections with al Qaeda through their North African branch, known as AQIM, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They are also believed to be associated with Al Shabaab, a Somali based al Qaeda affiliate.[xxxiv] The established relations between AQIM as well as Al Shabaab is creating a transcontinental front, from eastern and northern Africa to the south west of Somalia.
Clear connections can be made through various Boko Haram members to these associated groups, such as Mohammed Nur. He is believed to have been the leader in the 2009 UN bombing in Abuja, Nigeria killing 26 people. He then fled to Somalia and pledged allegiance to Al Shabaab, returning to Nigeria a year later with another sect member, who had gained al Qaeda bomb training in Afghanistan.[xxxv] Members of Boko Haram received training from al Qaeda bomb development. This is visible in the shift from their initial weapons derived of crude materials, to the more than 30 suicide attacks that occurred in 2012. In addition, suicide packs were further discovered in a 2013 raid on a Boko Haram facility in Kano, Nigeria.[xxxvi]
Boko Haram is known to have expanded far beyond Nigerian borders. In January of 2013, it is believed that Boko Haram members reinforced the attack on Kona, a city in Mali, by providing aid to MUJAO, a group known as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.[xxxvii] MUJAO has also been identified consolidating with AQIM and Ansar Dine, another jihadist group that resides largely in the Sahara.[xxxviii]
The last five years have exhibited an obvious increase in Boko Haram’s use of force through tactical weapons development. However the funding for such developments remain fairly elusive. The advances that have been taken could not have been accomplished without significant financial assistance. In 2013, the abduction of a French family in Cameroon, prompted Cameroonian and French officials to transfer $3 million to Boko Haram in ransom money, along with the release of sixteen prisoners held in Cameroon. In exchange, the family was safely released.[xxxix] Abductions have been and continue to be a common MO for the financial sustainability of Boko Haram, however micro financing from outside sources is also apparent.
Connections between al Qaeda are apparent, as well as the financial support that is being conducted between the two. This was confirmed in a 2011 interview with a Boko Haram member who stated “Our leader traveled to Saudi Arabia and met al Qaida there. We enjoy financial and technical support from them” here he is referring to when Mohammed Yusuf fled to Saudi Arabia in 2004.[xl] However, kidnapping remains the most confirmed practice for raising their funds. In Abubakar Shekau’s address to the world regarding the Chibok girls, he stated there is a “market of selling human beings.[xli] The black market is not a new concept to Boko Haram. However the financial profit that is being accrued through kidnappings is just the tip of the financial iceberg.
The vast funding is trickled down from Zakat funding. Zakat funding is a principle where Islamic banks or institutions pay a tithing, or contribution to those who are needy or deserving. [xlii] According to the Quran 9:60, “Zakat expenditures…are for the cause of Allah”.[xliii] Sharia finance is known as a leading financing source for Islamic fighting, and in a 2002 UN Security Council report it was noted that al Qaeda received an estimated $300-$500 million over the course of a decade.[xliv] As al Qaeda is a known financial supporter of Boko Haram, we can begin to see the trickledown effect, which leads us to the method in which al Qaeda sends illicit funds.
Hawala is a practice frequently used for money laundering as it allows for the transfer of funds without documentation or technology use.[xlv] This practice relies on a system of trust and fairly loose connections, typically transacted over the phone or email.[xlvi] Hawala means “money transfer without money movement”, this is the practice of remitting funds without the traditional use of a bank.[xlvii] This practice allows for the transfer of money from one individual to another through the connection of a Hawala dealer. Though there are circumstances where Hawala can be used legitimately, through the transfer of funds purely for familial support, money laundering is a frequent occurrence in the case of narcotics trafficking, fraud or terrorism funding.[xlviii] While the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) has put a stronger watch on charities and banks for their suspected Boko Haram financing, stopping Hawala has proven more difficult, as tracking the transactions is far more dubious. Zakata and Hawala funding essentially allows any institution or individual in the world to outsource support for the rapidly expanding terrorist group.
The international connections that Boko Haram has made and the messages they send to the world, notion to their ideology shift. The basis of their beliefs remains the same, anti-western education and the desire to instate Sharia law. However, the methods through which they conduct their objectives are far from the fundamentalist movement initiated in 2002. Their tactics now resemble those of al Qaeda and their affiliates. The biggest challenge with tackling the elimination of Boko Haram is not the removal of the group’s leaders, but the fact that they have allegiances with Islamic extremist factions across Africa and the Middle East. These groups thrive in impoverished areas, frequently where there are already underlying ethnic or religious conflicts. Nigeria has found itself in the predicament of combating a force that only grows stronger in retaliation to government and military force. They reject the notion of western education and democracy, and use the colonization and western influence as a rallying cry against Allah. It is clear that the sole use of force is not what can combat this form of terrorism.
Boko Haram has become a part of the transnational movement across the Middle East and Africa. This has become an issue of international security affecting much of the world. Jihadist terrorism cannot solely be fought with arms. The government of Nigeria needs to address the development of the state by concentrating on reconciliation of the country, before they can start addressing the expansive issue of terrorism. Development, along with the education of human rights, can combat terrorism’s common rhetoric. The state of Nigeria needs to diminish the ethnic and religious differences in order to delegitimize the influence of extremists. This can further be done by addressing the extra judiciary force that the police frequently abuse, and rebuilding the confidence and trust of the Nigerian people in their government. Finally, work on social injustices such as, poverty disparities and the elimination of government corruption. As long as struggle continues to persist in these conflict areas, room for exploitation and intimidation will continue to allow for the recruitment of extremist followers.
Photo credit: Japan Times
[ii] “Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: Its Implication and Way Forwards toward Avoidance of Future Insurgency” Aro, Olaide Ismail, International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 3. 11, November 2013. http://www.academia.edu/3559251/BOKO_HARAM_INSURGENCY_IN_NIGERIA_ITS_IMPLICATION
[v] “The World Factbook, Library” Central Intelligence Agency. 20 June, 2014. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ni.html.
[vi] “Why a Terrifying Religious Conflict is Raging in Niogeria” Campbell, John and Harwood, Asch. The Atlantic. 10 July 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/07/why-a-terrifying-religious-conflict-is-raging-in-nigeria/277690/.
[vii] “The World Factbook, Library” Central Intelligence Agency. 20 June, 2014. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ni.html.
[ix] Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): the Boko Haram Insurgency” International Crisis Group. 3 April, 2014. http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.
[xi] “Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks and Related Violence” IRIN News, 2014. http://www.irinnews.org/report/94691/nigeria-timeline-of-boko-haram-attacks-and-related-violence.
[xii] “Clarifying Boko Haram’s Transnational Intentions, Using Content Analysis of Public Statements in 2012” Eveslage, Benjamin, Perspectives on Terrorism Volume 7, No 5 2013. http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/291/html.
[xiii] ““Clarifying Boko Haram’s Transnational Intentions, Using Content Analysis of Public Statements in 2012” Eveslage, Benjamin, Perspectives on Terrorism Volume 7, No 5 2013. http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/291/html.
[xiv] “Understanding Boko Haram’s Web” Eveslage, Benjamin, Le Globaliste. 13 March, 2013. http://www.leglobaliste.com/2013/03/13/untangling-boko-harams-web/
[xvii] “The Rise of Nigeria’s Boko Haram” Ndege, Yvonne and Essa, Aad, Aljazeera. 30 September, 2013. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/09/201397155225146644.html.
[xviii] “Clarifying Boko Haram’s Transnational Intentions, Using Content Analysis of Public Statements in 2012” Eveslage, Benjamin, Perspectives on Terrorism Volume 7, No 5 2013. http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/291/html.
[xix] “The Rise of Nigeria’s Boko Haram” Ndege, Yvonne and Essa, Aad, Aljazeera. 30 September, 2013. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/09/201397155225146644.html.
[xxi] “Who, What, Why: Exactly what does the phrase Boko Haram mean?” BBC News Magazine Monitor. 13 May, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27390954.
[xxii] “Who, What, Why: Exactly what does the phrase Boko Haram mean?” BBC News Magazine Monitor. 13 May, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27390954.
[xxiii] “I Will Sell them’ Boko Haram Leader Says of Kidnapped Nigerian Girls” Abubakr, Aminu and Levs, Josh, CNN World. 6 May, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/05/world/africa/nigeria-abducted-girls/
[xxiv] Boko Haram and the Kiddnapping of the Chibok School Girls” Zenn, Jacob, Combating Terrorism Center. 29 May, 2014. https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-haram-and-the-kidnapping-of-the-chibok-schoolgirls.
[xxv] “Nigeria’s Stolen Girls” Okeowo, Alexis, The New Yorker. 30 April, 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2014/04/nigerias-stolen-girls.html
[xxvi] “book Haram killed hundred in Northeast Nigeria, Witenesses Say” Associated Press in Maiduguri, The Guardian. 5 june, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/05/boko-haram-killed-hundreds-north-east-nigeria.
[xxvii] “Nigerian President Declares Emergency in 3 States During Rebellion” botelho, Greg, CNN World. 14 May, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/14/world/africa/nigeria-violence/
[xxx] “Report: Boko Haram Militants Seize Cameroon Vice PM’s Wife” The World Post. 28 July, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/27/boko-haram-cameroon_n_5624431.html.
[xxxi] Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): the Boko Haram Insurgency” International Crisis Group. 3 April, 2014. http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.
[xxxii] “Nigeria: Boko Haram Kills 2,053 Civilians in 6 months” Human Rights Watch. 15 July, 2014. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/15/nigeria-boko-haram-kills-2053-civilians-6-months.
[xxxiii] Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): the Boko Haram Insurgency” International Crisis Group. 3 April, 2014. http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.
[xxxiv] “The Emerging Jihadist Threat in West Africa” Anti-Defamation League. 9 May, 2014. http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/combating-hate/boko-haram-jihadist-threat-west-africa-2013-1-11-v1.pdf.
[xxxv] Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): the Boko Haram Insurgency” International Crisis Group. 3 April, 2014. http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.
[xxxvi] Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): the Boko Haram Insurgency” International Crisis Group. 3 April, 2014. http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.
[xxxvii]“Boko Haram’s International Connections” Zenn, Jacob. Combating Terrorism Center. 14 January, 2013. https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-harams-international-connections.
[xxxviii] “Malaian Army Attacks Islamist Rebels in the North” Hirsch, Afua, The Gaurdian. 8 January, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/08/mali-army-attacks-islamist-rebels.
[xxxix] “Boko Haram has Kidnapped Before Successfully” Cruickshank, Paul & Lister, Tim. CNN World. 12 May, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/12/world/boko-haram-previous-abductions/.
[xl] “Boko Haram’s International Connections” Zenn, Jacob. Combating Terrorism Center. 14 January, 2013. https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-harams-international-connections.
[xli] “How Boko Haram Funds its Evil” McCoy, Terrence. The Washington Post. 6 June, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/06/06/this-is-how-boko-haram-funds-its-evil/.
[xlv] “Boko Haram: Coffers and Coffins; A Pandora’s Box-the Vast Financing Options for Boko Haram” Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium. 2014. http://www.trackingterrorism.org/article/new-financing-options-boko-haram/islamic-charities.
[xlvi] “The Hawala Alternative Remittance System and its Role in Money Laundering” Jost, Patrick & Sandhu, Harjit. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Page 7 of 27. http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Documents/FinCEN-Hawala-rpt.pdf.
[xlvii] “The Hawala Alternative Remittance System and its Role in Money Laundering” Jost, Patrick & Sandhu, Harjit. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Page 1 of 27. http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Documents/FinCEN-Hawala-rpt.pdf.
[xlviii] “The Hawala Alternative Remittance System and its Role in Money Laundering” Jost, Patrick & Sandhu, Harjit. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Page 12 of 27. http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Documents/FinCEN-Hawala-rpt.pdf.