The recent and increasingly aggressive Boko Haram attacks in Northern Nigeria have forced United States’ foreign policy makers to reassess their current counterterrorism strategies.

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, has been fighting in Africa’s most populous country since 2009 to “overthrow the government and install an Islamist state” according to a BBC News profile. They claim to be influenced by Quranic verses, and they advocate against Nigeria’s progressively western-leaning society. Members of Boko Haram believe that the social and political fabric of Nigeria has been tainted by the West as demonstrated by the growing number of secularly educated and politically aware citizens. Though Boko Haram has been active since 2002, it wasn’t until last year that the U.S. government declared it a terrorist organization.

Within the past several months, the number of Boko Haram attacks has rapidly increased, specifically in the Borno state of Northeast Nigeria. They have attacked both civilians and soldiers, and have claimed responsibility for shootings in schools, marketplaces and government buildings. Despite the death of founder Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, the Nigerian government has been unable to staunch either Boko Haram’s violent actions or its growing sphere of influence.

The question arises: how should the Nigerian government, the U.S. government and the world deal with this kind of terrorist organization? A recent article in U.S. News called for a reexamination of U.S. counterterrorism policies.

The author very acutely noted: “It is important to remember that violent extremism does not rise up in a vacuum.” Like many other terrorist groups, Boko Haram maintains its stability by feeding on Nigeria’s economic and political strife. Young men are sucked into the recruiting process because they lack a productive outlet for their time and their frustrations.

Poverty, unemployment and illiteracy have served to exacerbate the problem in Nigeria, and current counterterrorism strategies lack long-term vision. Instead of utilizing drone strikes, military intervention and targeted killings – methods which primarily serve to instill fear – the U.S. needs to help Nigeria establish a new economy. A prosperous economy and the jobs that come with it are the first steps in eliminating Boko Haram’s recruiting grounds.

The same U.S. News article articulately noted: “[humanitarian aid and relief] programs should seek to empower local civil society and religious actors rather than undermine their nonviolent efforts to address the crisis.” By encouraging a structured civil society with strong social and religious leaders, Boko Haram will be unable to spread its violent message.

It is important to understand that the long-term implementation of social, political, educational and economic changes is challenging. While quick fixes and violent reaction to this kind of terrorism may seem effective, it will serve as a long-term hindrance to Nigeria’s success as a country.

— Allison Heymann

Sources: U.S. News, BBC, CNN
Photo: China Daily

On April 14 approximately 276 girls were abducted from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria, by the militant group Boko Haram. The international attention and social media activism that have followed since have all been indicators of universal outrage. But most importantly they have underscored the instability which has crippled Nigeria in recent years.

With a $6 billion national annual budget for security forces, Nigeria’s recent mass kidnapping might seem surprising, but it is indicative of a broader spectrum of disarray. Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa and its leading economy, laying claim to the 26th largest economy in the world. However, its citizens are often bound by dire living constraints.

In Nigeria’s Borno state, home to capital city Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, the per capita income is $1,631 compared to $4,000 in political capital Abuja. It is evident that poverty has planted the seeds for violent extremism. Since 2009 Boko Haram, in their quest to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, has been implicated in the deaths of over 12,000 Nigerian citizens. In 2013 they were officially declared a terrorist group by the United States government.

Despite Nigeria’s trouble with internal uprisings, it has become clear that its government has been troubled by its own internal issues. Recent Nigerian media reports have revealed that 10 generals and five other senior officers have been court martialed and found guilty of supplying info and ammunition to Boko Haram. This level of extremist sympathizing, while detestable, is not altogether shocking given Nigeria’s current state of affairs.

Corruption on the level of high-ranking government officials has long been linked to poverty throughout Africa. Nigeria has been operating at annual levels of around seven percent economic growth over the past few years but its correlation between national economic growth and increasing living standards has become tenuous at best.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has framed his country’s growing poverty problems as a problem of wealth distribution. Considering the highly concentrated nature of wealth and political capital amongst the country’s oil barons, this assessment is worth considering. With oil reserves of upwards of 37 billion barrels, only second to Libya in all of Africa, Nigeria is surely not pressed for revenue generating natural resources. However, its influx of oil revenue has not made it a wealthy state.

By 2030 Nigeria’s population size is expected to increase from its 2010 level by upwards of 60 percent, making it the world’s eventual fifth largest population. There are currently over 160 million people living in Nigeria, 42.8 percent of whom are age 14 or younger. However, of the school age children who actually begin formal education, only two-thirds complete primary school. Like the rest of the world, lack of education coupled with the presence of poverty makes for a corrosive pair. It will surely take increasing levels of stability and government accountability to fend the two off.

On June 9, 20 more girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in the northeastern town of Garkin Fulani, Nigeria. The abductions took place only a few miles from where the 200-plus girls were kidnapped in Chibok in mid-April. This most recent example of Nigeria’s internal security woes comes after President Goodluck vowed to protect this vulnerable and embattled area of Nigeria. Instead, another instance of atrocity has once again marred a Nigerian community still reeling from the effects of the past five years.

 — Taylor Dow

Sources: CNN, BBC, Global Public Square, Tribune, Business Day
Photo: The Indian Express

Africa Rising
This past May, the International Monetary Fund met with Governors and Finance Ministers of Sub-Saharan African nations to assess progress in the region over the last two decades and anticipate challenges for future growth.

Sub-Saharan Africa is considered one of the fastest growing regions on Earth. Last year,  after a recalculation of its gross domestic product, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the largest economy on the continent, and placed it on par with the economies of Poland and Belgium as the 24th largest economy in the world.

Many countries in the region have benefited from strong economic performance, stronger institutions and higher investment in human and physical capital. However, job creation is low and there are large infrastructure gaps.

Even in Nigeria, per capita income is a low $3,000.

Leaders at the Africa Rising meeting in Maputo, Mozambique discussed ways to solve these issues and ensure that the growth the continent has seen in the past continues into the future. Policies will focus on job creation and diversification, and on correcting the income inequality that accompanied recent economic progress.

Those who attended the Maputo Joint Declaration also agreed on the need for a two-part system of transformation. The first of these is the creation of a strong private sector to create jobs; the second is investment in infrastructure with a focus on transportation and energy.

It is estimated that $90 billion a year is needed to close the current infrastructure gap across the continent.

“Sub-Saharan Africa will need to redouble efforts to harness the opportunities offered by its abundant natural resources and ensure that their fruits are equitably shared,” said Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director.

Despite recent growth, conflict still plagues sub-Saharan Africa, preventing further progress. The activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the crisis in South Sudan and a possible recession in South Africa all threaten years of development.

To maintain developmental progress, attendees of the summit agreed that economic policies should be flexible and tailored to each country, especially in the face of conflict. Leaders also expressed appreciation for the assistance of the International Monetary Fund and hoped for continued support in times of need.

The growth of African nations in recent years has allowed them to tap into the sovereign debt market for the first time.

Lagarde said national leaders must be warned of the dangers of racking up too much debt. The International Monetary Fund predicts that debt for sub-Saharan African countries will hide 35 percent of GDP in 2014.

“That is additional financing, but that is an additional vulnerability,” Lagarde said.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that fiscal deficits in the region will be 3.3 percent of the GDP this year. But in its biannual report, the International Monetary Fund also predicted economic growth of 5.4 percent, up from 4.9 percent last year.

It appears that Africa is indeed rising, and if it can withstand internal challenges and global shocks as it continues to grow, the world may also see a reduction in the extreme poverty situation that affects so many of its citizens.

– Kristen Bezner


Sources: Financial Times, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, IMF
Photo: Vacations and Travel

On May 23, the U.N. imposed sanctions against Boko Haram. The United Nations Security Council added the Boko Haram of Northern Nigeria to the “List of Designated Entities” to be sanctioned in connection with al-Qaeda. Members of the group could be denied travel outside the country and see their assets frozen.

The 1999 Resolution 1267 originally focused on pressuring the Afghan government to abandon terrorist groups within its borders, and applied to the country as a whole. The problem, as detailed in a 2000 U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report, rested in the negative economic repercussions for locals. After the 9/11 attacks, the Council redirected sanctions against individuals and entities that supported or worked in coordination with al-Qaeda.

Yet, in targeting specific persons and groups, critics argue that the Council works against the human rights agenda. Although a process now exists through which one may appeal the listing, those accused of aiding terrorism stand no trial before receiving sanctions.

The name recognition that accompanies such sanctions may also serve as a useful recruitment tactic now that the Boko Haram is one of the most infamous organizations in the world. Critics have further argued that unlike the al-Qaeda group, Boko Haram’s funding does not often come from wealthy friends and family, but rather small-scale crime, and therefore sanctions would hardly address informal finances.

The announcement of sanctions comes as violence is ever increasing in the region. Only one week ago, twin bombings in the city of Jos, for which Boko Haram has yet to claim responsibility, killed 122 people. On May 5, the group killed over 300 people in Gamboru Ngala.

Boko Haram has also made headlines for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls. Authorities have located the hostages, but security reasons have prevented a rescue mission. Many believe the sanctions represent a symbolic response to the international outcry on the kidnapping.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: BBC, Financial Times, GPF, United Nations

Two years ago, young people flooded Facebook with Kony 2012. Today, still awaiting the capture of Joseph Kony, the world has reacted to the April 14 kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the now notorious Boko Haram. Whether these trends through social media represent a genuine interest in world affairs, or simply an opportunity to self-promote, #BringBackOurGirls has indeed generated publicity for Northern Nigeria.

An understanding of the origins of the group, which calls itself Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wasl-Jihad, or “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad,” warrants a brief examination of life in Nigeria.

The paradox of the Nigerian economy has troubled the nation for decades since gaining independence from the British. How can the largest economy in Africa belong to a country in which 70 percent of its population still lives on less than $1.25 per day? Nigeria also has the largest number of children not in school, yet young Nigerians can be found scattered throughout the most prestigious universities in Europe and the U.S.

The answer to this inequality lies in the handling of the nation’s most prosperous natural resource: oil. Petroleum accounts for over 95 percent of all Nigerian exports and generates billions of dollars in profits, yet the Nigerian people receive little benefit for the extraction of their natural resource; instead, most profits never move beyond the select elite of Nigerian society.

This economic mismanagement has hindered the development of a strong middle class in Nigeria and has especially confined the Northern region, where poverty has soared to over 70 percent. Without diversification of the economy, the majority of Nigerians living in poverty are subject to the rise and fall of the price of oil as demonstrated over the past few years.

Another factor that has directly threatened human rights and has spread terrorism in Northern Nigeria is the environment. Global climate change leads to drought and shortages of resources in the North that further burden an already impoverished population. Desperation drives unemployed and young Northerners to join the ranks of the extremists. The Maitatsine sect, widely viewed as the precursor to the Boko Haram, began in the midst of an ecological disaster that displaced thousands of former farmers and herdsmen.

Corruption and inequality in Nigeria has facilitated the emergence of the Boko Haram, which, under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, has waged war in the region for the past five years. The Boko Haram grew after its founding in 2002, with the goal of imposing Sharia law upon all of Nigeria.

Having lost its original leader, who was publicly executed in 2009, the group rallied together and freed over 700 of its followers in a 2010 prison break.

The kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Borno is only the latest of the violent attacks the group has committed. No hashtag trend spread with the same magnitude as #BringBackOurGirls when 50 plus schoolboys died in February, nor when the group shot 40 sleeping students in dormitories at an agricultural college in 2013, nor the April 14 bombing that killed close to 100 people. More recently, at the beginning of May, the group destroyed a bridge near the Cameroonian border, killing 30. The Boko Haram attacked a second bridge on May 9 with an unknown number of casualties.

The rise of the Boko Haram generates concern within the international community, and yet that same community has allowed for the conditions conducive to such violence for years. Without addressing poverty in Nigeria, groups like the Boko Haram will continue to flourish.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: CFR, The Guardian 1, UNESCO, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3, Al Jazeera, Time, Oxford Journals, BBC, CIA

Photo: BBC

Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist group from Nigeria with an anti-western world thought. Over 4,000 people have been killed since 2002 when the extremist group began. A month ago Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 Nigerian girls ranging from age 12 to 15 while they were attending school. Recently, the group released a video to the press threatening to sell the girls into slavery and have yet to be rescued. The motive behind these killings and kidnappings is the resistance of anything socially or politically western or modern, such as education. The Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, stated that “all schools are targets.”

The Nigerian universities have come to a halt due to the fear surrounding the campuses because of these attacks by the extremists. The English translation of Boko Haram is “western education is forbidden,” and over 20 schools have been burnt to the ground by the militant group. The extremist group believes that the secularized, western way of life is corrupting the government and society in Nigeria. The goal of Boko Haram’s leader is to create an Islamic nation, and give rise to “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad,” which is also the Arabic meaning of Boko Haram.

The crusade of the attacks on schools by the group is claiming a toll on Nigerian standards of education. Poverty in Nigeria is rising, and a large number of students are not attending, especially Nigerian girls who are living in fear because of the recent abductions. The Nigerian government has had to close down schools and universities for long periods of time due to these growing issues of security.

The fear Boko Haram has instilled in Nigeria is increasing poverty, and lowering human development rates every day. The acts committed by the group are violations of human rights, and are continuing to impede the advancement of female education. The efforts to encourage education for children, especially in young girls, is important to continue to grow the Nigerian economy and prevent the spread of poverty through rural areas. Female education brings empowerment to young girls and is also an investment in Nigeria’s future, in areas including the health sector. Health services like protection against HIV and AIDS, and lowering pregnancy in the community is also a significant factor in female education.

Boko Haram is mainly composed of young, poor Nigerian men. This is another consequence of the rising poverty and employment rate, causing these young men to become conflicted with religious righteousness and the justification of these killings and abductions. The religious extremist group recruits young members from Islamic schools and turn them to violence to extend the message of a non-secular Islamic state. Religious terrorism is a dangerous problem not only for the Nigerian civilians, but the country’s resources and economy as well.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: The Guardian, BBC

Guns are more of a threat mechanism for Boko Haram. It is knives they use to kill.

Known for attacking Christians, government officials and schools in an effort to halt anything it considers to be Westernization, Boko Haram is an Islamic jihad terrorist organization that aims to form an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria. Their violent campaign, which began in 2002 under Mohammed Yusuf, is increasing in intensity and inciting fear throughout the region. This past year alone saw hundreds of deaths at the hands of Boko Haram and the group’s official recognition as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Many innocent Nigerians have been severely affected by the horrors around them. One young woman was held captive for three months and ordered to slit the throats of newcomers brought to her camp. Orders such as this, in addition to the slaughter of numerous people in front of captives, are not uncommon circumstances in the presence of Boko Haram.

Attacks on schools have resulted in an unfortunate educational hiatus. Borno state, for example, closed down all of its schools prior to the normal end of term in order to keep children and educators safe. And the conflict is spreading.

Thousands of refugees have run away from the region, taking refuge over international borders. Navanethem “Navi” Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has recommended a regional effort in order to take on the tumultuous issue of Boko Haram’s terrorist activity.

Nigeria’s national security advisor, Sambo Dasuki, also offers a new path to solve the problem. Claiming that corruption, injustice and a lack of opportunity have led many young Nigerians to support or even join Boko Haram, Dasuki proposes a plan quite different from the military campaign currently attacking Boko Haram camps that is failing to make much progress toward peace.

Dasuki calls it a “soft approach” and purports to enroll past Boko Haram members in vocational schools while local imams deliver different, more pacifist, interpretations of the Quran. The primary issue, however, is that a great many Nigerians, alienated in the northeastern section of the country where Boko Haram runs rampant, harbor a deep distrust for President Goodluck Jonathan’s counterinsurgency program in the area. This military action is expected to continue even through Dasuki’s new approach.

The hope is that a mobilization of “family, cultural, religious and national values” can turn the tide of the situation in northeast Nigeria. With enough energy behind these new initiatives, perhaps the number of people terrorizing civilians will subside and a feeling of safety and security will form as a replacement for fear.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Economist, BBC, Al Jazeera, All Africa
Photo: Daily Post

boko haram
Schools in northern Nigeria are again the targets of religious tension, after a fatal attack by Boko Haram on February 24.  The militant group set fire to the dormitories of a boarding school in the town of Budi Yani, Adamawa killing 29 young boys ages 11-18.

This is one of a growing number of attacks by the organization, which is responsible for roughly 1,700 deaths since their establishment in 2009. It is eerily similar to the burning of the College of Agriculture in Yobe State last September, during which 42 students were killed and 18 injured. Again on February 12, an estimated 50-90 civilians lost their lives in the village of Izghe in Borno state.

Tension is prevalent across the northern states of Borno, Yobe, Kano, Adamawa, Kaduna and Bauchi, where Boko Haram seeks to create a separate Islamic state, under the rule of Sharia law. Their sectarian stance is adamantly opposed to Western influence and Christianity, as indicated by their name, which translates to “Western education is sinful”.

Religious conflict between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south arose in 1914, when British colonial rule created the West African nation. Demographics were not considered when the borders were drawn, combining culturally distinct and incongruous populations.

Boko Haram’s presence has been disastrous for Nigeria’s education system. Schools across the north are closing indefinitely, and even those that remain open are seeing extremely low attendance. Previously, State Commissioner of Education Mohammed Lamin frequently claimed that the government was winning the war on terror, and urged schools to reopen. However, many frightened parents remain unconvinced.

Aside from schools, Boko Haram also targets local banks, businesses, homes, churches and public buildings. Many families have fled to nearby Chad and Cameroon, choosing refugee status over sectarian violence.

Local chairman of Izghe, Maina Ularamu, says, “there is no protection. We cannot predict where and when they are going to attack. People can’t sleep with their eyes closed.”

The boarding school assault has been interpreted as an “open declaration of war,” according to Nigeria’s Senate President David Mark, along with other government leaders. The state of emergency declared in the region last year, as an attempt to end the insurgency through formal military deployment, will continue.

International efforts continue to be implemented against Boko Haram. France and the United States recently pledged their support for the Nigerian government, and leaders of neighboring Senegal, Niger, and Cameroon promise to help fight the militants on the ground. Nigeria’s President Jonathon will also soon be attending a security conference in Europe, where he hopes to garner even more awareness of the issue.

 – Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, NPR, NPR, BBC, The Guardian
Photo: LA Times

As of November 13, 2013, Boko Haram is now considered a terrorist group by the United States.

Boko Haram (Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad) is an Arabic term that means “Western education is sacrilege.” As a jihadist group, Boko Haram is considered to be one of the most violent movements in contemporary Islam, using aggressive brutality to achieve their end goal: to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law while also ending what the group considers to be westernization.

2. Boko Haram honors and promotes the concept of vengeance.

July 2009 brought Boko Haram some setbacks. A clash with Nigerian Government forces led to the deaths of hundreds of members of the jihadist group. Former leader Muhammad Yusuf, who created the group in 2001, was also captured. This capture led to Yusuf’s televised execution, as well as the deaths of his father-in-law and other sect members.

In response to this event, Boko Haram began a series of violent attacks in northeast Nigeria.

“We are responsible for the attacks in Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum,” said Abul Qaqa, a supposed spokesman for Boko Haram. “We carried out the attacks to avenge the killings of our brothers by the security forces in 2009. We will continue to wage war against the Nigerian state until we abolish the secular system and establish an Islamic state.”

3. The death toll of Boko Haram is in the thousands.

Responsible for over 400 killings in 2011 alone, the group’s death toll raises daily. In fact, it said that Boko Haram is guilty of over 4,700 murders.

4. The group has strong ties to Al Qaeda and has even threatened the United States.

A January 2012 United Nations report cited regional officials as saying that “Boko Haram had established links with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” Apparently, some of the group’s “members from Nigeria and Chad had received training in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb camps in Mali during the summer of 2011.”

Abubakar Shekau, the current leader (also known as an “emir”) of Boko Haram, did not denounce these ties.

“Don’t think that jihad stops with the death of imams, because imams are individuals,” Shekau says. “Don’t you see and think how many sheikhs and men were martyred, like Sheikh Abdullah Azzam [the co-founder of al Qaeda], Abu Musab al Zarqawi [the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq], Abu Omar al Baghdadi [the emir of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq], Osama bin Laden, Abu Yahya al Libi [a top al Qaeda leader], Abu Yusuf Muhammad bin Yusuf al Nigiri [the former emir of Boko Haram], and others ….”

“Do not think jihad is over,” Shekau said. “Rather jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury.”

5. Among Boko Haram’s thousands of victims are innocent civilians, including women and children.

The group set fire to a Mamudo boarding school that ended up killing 42 students and teachers. They killed 200 people in the village of Baga. Bombings of churches, schools, and various other places have earned the group their terrorist affiliation.

The fate of Alhaji Muhammadu proves the aforementioned point as well. Muhammadu was fatally shot when walking home on February 9. His son explained that his father had told the police about a booby-trapped car in the neighborhood. Boko Haram found out.

Two masked men on a motorcycle shouted: “Just try that again. Now you are dead,” recalled the son, Sudaifu Muhammadu, a 27-year-old student at Bayero University, shuddering.

“They are all around,” Mr. Muhammadu said.

6. The country’s poverty levels seem to have a negative impact on the situation overall.

The Nigerian state, the typical enemy of the jihadist group, is largely due to the nation’s enduring poverty, according to analysts. Despite Nigeria’s oil wealth, 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. Since 2004, there has been an increase in national poverty, with about 75 percent of the population considered to be poor.

Reasons for attacks seemed quite clear to the Nigerians living with the fear of impending violence: injustice and misgovernance by political officials.

“The leaders are not concerned about the common man,” said Abdullahi Dantsabe, squatting in his open-air stall where he sells cooked yams.

Ado Ibrahim, a 22-year-old sugar cane vendor, was in agreement. He stated that another flare-up was “possible, as long as injustice persists.”

7. The local police are not as helpful as they were expected to be.

 National Geographic writer James Verini recalled a woman he met at a hospital in Kano this year.

“She’d been selling water in the bus station the day of the bombing. Her young daughter had been helping her,” Verini said. “When the car exploded, the girl vanished. In the darkness the woman called out for her. When her daughter didn’t respond, she began looking for a body. When she couldn’t find a body, she looked for an arm, a leg, clothing, a shoe, anything. She found nothing. She told the police what had happened, but they didn’t care and ordered her to leave. The woman’s husband went to every hospital in Kano, to no avail.”

The woman has not seen her daughter since that day.

– Samantha Davis
Sources: Reuters, International Business Times, Aljazeera, Counsel on Foreign Relations, New York Times, National Geographic


In the wake of the US State Department’s designation for Boko Haram as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” many unfamiliar with the violence in Nigeria are left wondering just who this group is. Nigeria and the United Nations have considered the group terrorists since they began attacks on the government and civilians in 2009, but the U.S. designation is likely the outcome of increased evidence to support the group’s links to al-Qaida and the waxing number of bombings and shootings they have carried out in the last two years.

The UN reports more than 1,200 civilians have been killed by Boko Haram since 2009. Some human rights groups report as many as 3,000 deaths can be linked to the terrorist organization while Al Jazeera reports 3,600 have died since the insurgency began. Though much of the violence they’ve enacted has come from drive-by shootings on motorcycles and sporadic bombings, their attacks have become increasingly better organized and take place in areas further from the group’s base in the city of Kano (located in northern Nigeria).

In August of 2011, they were responsible for the suicide bombing of the UN’s headquarters of Nigeria in the capital city of Abuja, over 200 miles south of Kano. Organized attacks in the state of Borno that included the creation of a highway roadblock this September left 160 civilians dead, according to the State Department.

Most of their attacks, however, have been more haphazard against smaller targets, particularly police and military offices, schools, and churches. Their goal is to create a puritanical Islamic state and the violence against any counter-ideologies prompted Nigeria residents to dub the group Boko Haram, which roughly means “Western Education is Forbidden.”

Support for the group comes from the extremely poor northern states of Nigeria where most are Muslim and accept sharia law. This is not to say the terrorists are well-liked as most of their targets have been Muslims, but many people in the region accept the fundamental principles they have taken to the extreme and the group uses this to gain new recruits.

Also, the Nigerian military’s extrajudicial use of force to root out the terrorists has claimed many civilian casualties as well, motivating some to join the opposition. Most, though, are terrified of Boko Haram and people across the region are afraid to attend churches and mosques or let their children attend school.  As a result of the terror tactics and insurgency, the UN estimates 8,000 refugees have fled to Cameron alone and another 5,000 have been internally displaced from their homes.

Peaceful negotiation with the group has proven extremely difficult given their staunch fundamentalism and lack of central organization. Since their original leader, Mohammed Yussuf, was killed in 2009, various cells of terrorists have sometimes acted separately and made conflicting responses to government requests for dialogue. The suspected head of Boko Haram’s main force is Yussuf’s former deputy, Abubakar Shekau. Claims of ceasefire talks have been reported by a Nigerian minister but have yet to produce any official results in the struggle.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: UNDP, World Bank, UN, Nigerian Newspaper Today, USIP, BBC, The Guardian, CNN, DW, Al Jazeera, New York Times, UCDP
Photo: Times Live