Encyclopedia Britannica

  • Entertainment & Pop Culture
  • Geography & Travel
  • Health & Medicine
  • Lifestyles & Social Issues
  • Philosophy & Religion
  • Politics, Law & Government
  • Sports & Recreation
  • Visual Arts
  • World History
  • On This Day in History
  • Biographies
  • Top Questions
  • Week In Review
  • Infographics
  • Demystified
  • Image Galleries
  • One Good Fact
  • Britannica Explains In these videos, Britannica explains a variety of topics and answers frequently asked questions.
  • Britannica Classics Check out these retro videos from Encyclopedia Britannica’s archives.
  • #WTFact Videos In #WTFact Britannica shares some of the most bizarre facts we can find.
  • This Time in History In these videos, find out what happened this month (or any month!) in history.
  • Demystified Videos In Demystified, Britannica has all the answers to your burning questions.
  • Student Portal Britannica is the ultimate student resource for key school subjects like history, government, literature, and more.
  • COVID-19 Portal While this global health crisis continues to evolve, it can be useful to look to past pandemics to better understand how to respond today.
  • 100 Women Britannica celebrates the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, highlighting suffragists and history-making politicians.
  • Britannica Beyond We’ve created a new place where questions are at the center of learning. Go ahead. Ask. We won’t mind.
  • Saving Earth Britannica Presents Earth’s To-Do List for the 21st Century. Learn about the major environmental problems facing our planet and what can be done about them!
  • SpaceNext50 Britannica presents SpaceNext50, From the race to the Moon to space stewardship, we explore a wide range of subjects that feed our curiosity about space!
  • Introduction

Early activity

Revival and onslaught of attacks, containment, allegiance to isil, and division.

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Boko Haram activity in Nigeria

Boko Haram , (Hausa: “Westernization Is Sacrilege”) byname of Jamāʿat Ahl al-Sunnah li-l-Daʿawah wa al-Jihād (Arabic: “People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad”) , from 2015 also called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) or Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP) , Islamic sectarian movement, founded in 2002 by Muhammed Yusuf in northeastern Nigeria , that since 2009 has carried out assassinations and large-scale acts of violence in that country. The group’s initial proclaimed intent was to uproot the corruption and injustice in Nigeria, which it blamed on Western influences, and to impose Sharīʿah , or Islamic law. Later the group vowed to avenge the deaths of Yusuf and other group members, who were killed by security forces in 2009. In 2015 the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and took the name Islamic State (or State’s) West African Province (ISWAP; also known as Islamic State in West Africa , or ISWA). The next year the group split, with one faction retaining that name and the other reverting back to the original appellation.

Yusuf established the group in Maiduguri , the capital of the northeastern state of Borno , Nigeria. Although the original name of the group is Jamāʿat Ahl al-Sunnah li-l-Daʿawah wa al-Jihād (often translated as “Association of the People of the Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad” or “People Committed to the Prophet’s Teaching for Propagation and Jihad”), the name Boko Haram , which means “Westernization is sacrilege,” was given to the group by neighbours based on how they viewed its lifestyle and teachings. This, in turn, was popularly interpreted as “Western education is a sin” or “Western education is forbidden.” Ideologically, Boko Haram is against Westernization , which it views as negatively impacting Islamic values. The group blames Western influences for Nigeria’s culture of corruption, which has contributed to a wide gap between the few rich and the many poor.

Boko Haram gained widespread exposure in July 2009 when, after an incident in which group members were allegedly subjected to the excessive use of force by police and then were unable to get official investigation into the matter, the group launched attacks on police posts and other government installations, killing scores of police officers. When the police could not bring the situation under control, the army was brought in. The ensuing Joint Military Task Force operation left more than 700 Boko Haram members dead and destroyed the mosque that the group used as its headquarters. Yusuf and other leaders were arrested by the military and handed over to the police. A few days later the bullet-riddled corpses of Yusuf and his colleagues—including that of his father-in-law, Baba Fugu Mohammed, who had willingly handed himself over to the police for questioning—were displayed in public; the extrajudicial killings by the police infuriated the group as well as others.

After that incident, Boko Haram appeared to be disbanded, or at least inactive, until the next year, when a video was made public in which Yusuf’s deputy, Abubakar Shekau , declared that he was the group’s new leader and vowed to avenge the deaths of Yusuf and the others.

In the summer of 2010, the group began to assassinate individuals, typically police officers, and also attacked larger targets. One early operation that garnered widespread attention occurred in September 2010, when the group attacked a prison in the city of Bauchi , in Bauchi state, and released more than 700 inmates, including some 100 Boko Haram members. Later that year, on Christmas Eve, the group attacked two Christian churches in Maiduguri and detonated explosives in Christian neighbourhoods in Jos , in Plateau state, the latter attack killing more than 30 people.

2012 Boko Haram attacks

Boko Haram’s attacks increased in frequency and magnitude, killing and injuring many. The attacks occurred primarily in Nigeria’s northeast, north-central, and central states and typically focused on police, military, and government targets, as well as Christian churches and schools and Muslim individuals who were critical of the group. On August 26, 2011, the group struck its first high-profile international target within Nigeria when a suicide bomber crashed a car into the United Nations building in Abuja and detonated an explosive, which killed at least 23 people and injured more than 100 others. One of Boko Haram’s deadliest attacks occurred on January 20, 2012, when more than 185 people lost their lives after group members launched coordinated attacks in the city of Kano , in Kano state, targeting police stations and government offices.

After its 2010 resurrection, Boko Haram’s membership and organizational structure were not clear. The group reportedly had begun splintering into multiple factions sometime after Yusuf’s death, with the main faction being led by Shekau. Security reports indicated that Boko Haram had links with other terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia . In February 2013 some Boko Haram members reportedly began operating in neighbouring Cameroon .

The shadowy nature of Boko Haram as well as its resilience made it difficult to craft an effective strategy to end the group’s campaign of terror. The Nigerian government initially responded by pursuing a strategy of military confrontation. This did little to end the attacks, though government forces were eventually somewhat successful in driving the group from larger cities. In 2013 it was apparent that Boko Haram had taken over many rural local government areas in northeastern states, where they were able to gain strength. Also troubling was the manner in which government security forces pursued the group, a manner that was often rife with extrajudicial violence and killings, and troops did not always discriminate between group members and civilians. Such methods heightened tensions in a country already on edge from Boko Haram’s attacks and elicited widespread condemnation from human rights groups.

In April 2013 Shekau dismissed a proposal from Nigerian Pres. Goodluck Jonathan to grant amnesty to Boko Haram militants if they disarmed; Shekau declared that Boko Haram members had done nothing for which they needed amnesty. The next month Boko Haram launched a series of coordinated military-style attacks in the town of Bama, in Borno state. The attacks left more than 50 people dead and destroyed numerous police, military, and government buildings. The group also released more than 100 inmates from a prison in the town. In response, the government launched its largest-scale military offensive against Boko Haram to date, employing thousands of troops on the ground and a campaign of air strikes to combat the group. In spite of the military’s actions, Boko Haram continued with its horrific attacks—including many on schools—resulting in more than 1,200 deaths by the end of 2013.

On the heels of the military offensive, in June President Jonathan had officially declared Boko Haram a terrorist group and banned it under Nigerian law, which meant that group members and anyone caught aiding them would be prosecuted under the country’s Terrorism Prevention Act. The new legal designation was expected to make it easier for authorities to prosecute members of the group legally.

Boko Haram: kidnapped girls

Boko Haram’s attacks persisted into 2014, particularly in the northeast, as the group raided villages and terrorized and murdered civilians with increasing frequency. The group also killed hundreds of people by detonating bombs in large towns and cities, including Abuja. Boko Haram continued to target schools, such as in the February attack on a college in Yobe state where some 50 male students were killed and the college was virtually destroyed. The group drew worldwide condemnation after it perpetrated a mass kidnapping of more than 275 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in Borno state in April, which generated an increase in offers of international assistance to Nigeria as the country attempted to quell Boko Haram’s acts of terror. In May the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on individuals in Boko Haram, freezing assets and issuing travel bans and an arms embargo. However, given the group’s informal structure, the sanctions had no discernible effect on Boko Haram’s operations. The group continued its attacks and expanded the territory it occupied. In August 2014 Boko Haram declared the area under its control to be an Islamic state.

The tide appeared to turn in the fight against Boko Haram in February 2015 when a successful offensive was planned and launched by troops from Nigeria and neighbouring countries, which proved effective in uprooting Boko Haram from much of the area it had previously held. Meanwhile, in March 2015 the group pledged allegiance to ISIL, an insurgent group operating primarily in Iraq and Syria, and took the name ISWAP (later more commonly known as ISWA).

Also about that time, the group experienced a significant fissure , with Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of the group’s original leader, Yusuf, leading a majority of the militants while Shekau remained the head of others. One of the reasons for the split was Shekau’s indiscriminate use of violence that affected Muslims. In 2016 ISIL recognized al-Barnawi’s faction as ISWA, and Shekau’s faction was then referred to by its original name: in Hausa, Boko Haram, or, in Arabic, Jamāʿat Ahl al-Sunnah li-l-Daʿawah wa al-Jihād (JAS). In spite of the different factions and names, “Boko Haram” was used at times to collectively refer to the various factions, particularly when there was confusion as to which group was responsible for an attack.

Although the joint task force composed of troops from Nigeria and neighbouring countries had made significant progress against Boko Haram and its related groups beginning in 2015, attacks by the militants later resumed, with ISWA in particular being very active from 2018. ISWA also reportedly gained a new leader, Abu Abdullah ibn Umar al-Barnawi, in 2019.

Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamist group?

A screengrab taken on 13 July 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (C).

Nigeria's militant Islamist group Boko Haram - which has caused havoc in Africa's most populous country through a wave of bombings, assassinations and abductions - is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.

This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.

Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, regardless of whether the president is Muslim or not - and it has extended its military campaign by targeting neighbouring states.

A female student stands in a burnt classroom at a school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on 12 May 2012

The group's official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad".

Resisting British rule

But residents in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where the group had its headquarters, dubbed it Boko Haram.

Loosely translated from the region's Hausa language, this means "Western education is forbidden".

Boko originally meant fake but came to signify Western education, while haram means forbidden.


Boko Haram at a glance

Mohammed Yusuf, bare-chested and with a bandage on his arm, surrounded by soldiers

Islamic State strengthens ties with Boko Haram

Is Islamic State shaping Boko Haram media?

Jihadist groups around the world

What is jihadism?

Recruiting ground

Since the Sokoto caliphate, which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control in 1903, there has been resistance among some of the area's Muslims to Western education.

Many still refuse to send their children to government-run "Western schools", a problem compounded by the ruling elite which does not see education as a priority.

Against this background, charismatic Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri in 2002. He set up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school.

Many poor Muslim families from across Nigeria, as well as neighbouring countries, enrolled their children at the school.

But Boko Haram was not only interested in education. Its political goal was to create an Islamic state, and the school became a recruiting ground for jihadis.

This video can not be played

To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.

Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in Hausa

In 2009, Boko Haram carried out a spate of attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.

This led to shoot-outs on Maiduguri's streets. Hundreds of Boko Haram supporters were killed and thousands of residents fled the city.

Nigeria's security forces eventually seized the group's headquarters, capturing its fighters and killing Mr Yusuf.

His body was shown on state television and the security forces declared Boko Haram finished.

Chadian soldiers gather on February 1, 2015 near the Nigerian town of Gamboru, just accros the border from Cameroon

But its fighters regrouped under a new leader, Abubakar Shekau, and stepped up their insurgency.

In 2013, the US designated it a terrorist organisation , amid fears that it had developed links with other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to wage a global jihad.

Facial marks

Boko Haram's trademark was originally the use of gunmen on motorbikes, killing police, politicians and anyone who criticised it, including clerics from other Muslim traditions and Christian preachers.

The group then began to carry out more audacious attacks in northern and central Nigeria, including bombing churches, bus ranks, bars, military barracks and even the police and UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja.

Amid growing concern about the escalating violence, the government declared a state of emergency in May 2013 in the three northern states where Boko Haram was strongest - Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

Nollywood celebrity Patience Ozokwor, aka Mama G, pleads for the release of the more than 200 abducted Chibok school girls in Lagos on May 29, 2014,

It draws its fighters mainly from the Kanuri ethnic group, which is the largest in the three states. Most Kanuris have distinctive facial scars and when added to their heavy Hausa accents, they are easily identifiable to others Nigerians.

As a result, the militants operate mainly in the north-east, where the terrain is also familiar to them.

Foreign links

The deployment of troops and the formation of vigilante groups drove many of them out of Maiduguri, their main urban base and they retreated to the vast Sambisa forest to the south and the Mandara Mountains, close to the border with Cameroon.

From there, the group's fighters launched mass attacks on villages and towns, looting, killing, abducting women and children and conscripting men and boys into their army.


In April 2014, Boko Haram drew international condemnation by abducting more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok town in Borno state, saying it would treat them as slaves and marry them off - a reference to an ancient Islamic belief that women captured in conflict are considered war booty.

And it switched tactics, starting to hold on to territory rather than retreating after an attack.

In August 2014, Mr Shekau declared a caliphate in areas under Boko Haram's control, with the town of Gwoza its seat of power.

"We are in an Islamic caliphate," said Mr Shekau, flanked by masked fighters and carrying a machine gun. "We have nothing to do with Nigeria. We don't believe in this name."

A man serves lunch from an open-air kitchen for people displaced by Boko Haram violence on May 19, 2016 in the Dalori Internally Displaced People's (IDP) Camp, near Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria.

Later, Mr Shekau formally pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group, turning his back on al-Qaeda.

IS accepted the pledge, naming the territory under Boko Haram's control as the Islamic State of West Africa Province and as being part of the global caliphate it was trying to establish.

Chronic poverty

But by March 2015, Boko Haram had lost all the towns under its control as a regional coalition - made up of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger - was formed to fight it.

Once again, Boko Haram retreated to the Sambisa forest, where the Nigerian military pursued it, freeing hundreds of captives.

Abu Musab al-Barnawi

In August 2016, the group apparently split, with an IS video announcing that Mr Shekau had been replaced with Abu Musab al-Barnawi, believed to be a son of Boko Haram's founder.

Mr Shekau disputed this, insisting he was still in charge.

And in a big surprise, 21 of the Chibok girls, seen as prized assets for Mr Shekau, were freed in October 2016 following talks involving the militants, the Nigerian and Swiss governments and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

But with Amnesty International saying that some 2,000 children remain in captivity, many more are still to be freed.

And while many fighters have been killed and weapons seized, some analysts say it is too early to write off Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has outlived other militant groups in northern Nigeria, and has built a presence in neighbouring states where it has carried out attacks and has recruited fighters.

It has a force of thousands of men - CIA officials have estimated around 9,000 - and cells that specialise in bombings. Through its raids on military bases and banks, it has gained control of vast amounts of weapons and money.

So, the chances of it being routed anytime soon - despite Mr Buhari's claim that it had been "technically defeated" - are slim, with the region's chronic poverty and poor education system helping it gain new recruits.

Around the BBC

News in Hausa

Africa Today podcasts


Supported by

Thousands of Boko Haram Members Surrendered. They Moved In Next Door.

Fighters and family members of a terrorist group in Nigeria have defected in droves since the death of their leader. They’ve been relocated to a city they once terrorized.

Send any friend a story

As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

Boko Haram extremists terrorized the city of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria, sending suicide bombers into markets.

By Ruth Maclean and Ismail Alfa

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — For over a decade, the extremist group Boko Haram has terrorized northeastern Nigeria — killing tens of thousands of people, kidnapping schoolgirls and sending suicide bombers into busy marketplaces.

Now, thousands of Boko Haram fighters have surrendered, along with their family members, and are being housed by the government in a compound in the city of Maiduguri, the group’s birthplace and its frequent target.

The compound is next to a middle-class housing development and a primary school, terrifying residents, teachers and parents.

“We are very afraid,” said Maimouna Mohammed, a teacher at the primary school, glancing at the camp’s wall 50 yards from her classroom. “We don’t know their minds.”

Nigerian military and justice officials say that in the past month, as many as 7,000 fighters and family members, along with their captives, have left Boko Hara m, the largest wave of defections by far since the jihadist group emerged in 2002.

The turning point for its fortunes appears to have been the death of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s longtime leader, who blew himself up in May after being cornered by a rival faction.

However weakened Boko Haram may be, though, it does not necessarily mean an end to terror for the people of northeastern Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of whom have died , and millions of whom have fled .

Fighters from Boko Haram’s rival splinter group — the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP — are moving into the vacuum, observers in the region say, ferrying truckloads of military equipment from their strongholds in the Lake Chad area southward to Mr. Shekau’s former dens in the Sambisa forest. ISWAP broke off from Boko Haram in 2016, and claimed an affiliation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Journalists are not allowed into the compound hosting the Boko Haram defectors, a facility known as Hajj Camp, formerly used by Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca. But we were able to interview six people who surrendered in the past month, who each managed to leave the camp for a few hours. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Most described a surrender largely for practical reasons — because they were leaderless, because the weapons supply had dried up, because they were tired of living in the bush, because they feared for their survival, or because they felt the choice was between surrendering to the government or going over to the Islamic State West Africa Province, where they feared they might be treated as slaves.

“We are leaderless,” said a man who identified himself as a khaid, one of the top ranks of commander. “What do we do?”

The khaid said he had witnessed Mr. Shekau self-detonate, blowing up other Boko Haram members and men from the Islamic State West Africa Province, who had ambushed him in his stronghold in the Sambisa forest.

“It was devastating,” the khaid said, his hand over his face, eyes shifting behind his fingers. “Sambisa was silent. Not even the sound of the flour grinder. The whole place was in mourning.”

The khaid had joined Boko Haram because he wanted revenge on a soldier who had beaten him up, he said, and had risen to be the head of the hisbah, Boko Haram’s morality police, married to four women with 14 children.

And he left because he realized he could do it without fear of dying.

He went home after Mr. Shekau’s death to the village he had left years before, and tried to start farming. Recently, he said, one of his sons found a leaflet hanging on a thorn tree in the field. He took it to a friend who could read, who told him it was an offer of clemency from the government.

He’d been under the impression that the government executed all Boko Haram members or took them to Giwa barracks , a military detention center notorious for mass shootings, torture and starvation. Certain that he would be killed if he stayed on his farm, he jumped at the chance to surrender.

He handed himself and his family in, he said, swearing three times on the Quran that he would never go back. When the military officer asked him why he was surrendering, he produced the leaflet.

“Oh, so it’s useful,” the officer said, surprised.

“Print more and throw them into the bush,” the khaid replied. “It’s very useful.”

In Hajj Camp, living alongside commanders like the khaid are some of their former hostages, some abducted as children and married off to fighters. They are keeping as low a profile in the camp as possible, still fearful of being raped.

Also in the camp are legions of Boko Haram fighters waiting to be interrogated by the Nigerian government. There are fighters who joined the group willingly, often lured with gifts of money and motorcycles, but also those who were forced or brainwashed into signing up.

One fighter was a hafiz, someone who has memorized the entire Quran. But, he said, he never knew how to interpret the words he could recite so well.

What we consider before using anonymous sources.   Do the sources know the information? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

In his early teens, he listened to Boko Haram’s leaders preach that the whole world had turned to wayward living and that they needed to stand and fight.

“I totally believed them,” he said, seated on a carpet, compulsively rubbing the sole of his foot over and over with stubby fingers. “I trusted them and anything they said, I agreed.”

He killed 17 people, he said, and he did it joyfully, seeing it as a blessing.

Around the time Mr. Shekau killed himself, the hafiz began secretly listening to recordings of sermons by imams preaching a completely different, and peaceful, interpretation. Distraught, he plotted his surrender.

“I want forgiveness. But I don’t know how God will forgive me,” he said.

Another, a 28-year-old spy, said he had joined Boko Haram when he was 13 and was part of a group of 400 people who decided to surrender together. Despite admitting to killing at least 10 people with his own hands, and causing the deaths of “countless” others through his spying, he felt he might have a chance at being accepted by the community.

“Top military officials assured us we would not be killed,” he said. For the first time, he saw an opportunity to live an ordinary life, he said.

When they arrived in Hajj Camp, the khaid said, a senior military officer assured them they would be protected. They would be given training and capital to start trades, and ID cards so they could travel.

“We know he will not lie,” the khaid said.

Another promise, he said, was that their children would be educated, something he welcomed.

This is quite the turnaround. Boko Haram literally translates as “Western education is forbidden.” The group’s most infamous crime is the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls from their dormitory in the village of Chibok — girls that Mr. Shekau vowed he would sell in a market in one of his frequent video diatribes. (All of the Chibok girls not released were married off to fighters, the khaid said.)

At the Ahmed Jaha nursery and primary school, next to Hajj Camp, Ms. Mohammed and other teachers struggled to believe that the surrendered fighters, who arrived last month haggard and hungry in green and white school buses, had really repented.

When she saw them playing football over the low wall that separated them from the school perimeter, she thought about how she would get her tiny pupils in their purple checked uniforms to safety. “If something happens, how are we going to carry the children?” she asked.

The low wall surrounding Hajj Camp was a problem.

Soon after they were moved in, around 20 of the defectors scaled it and fled, according to Bunu Bukar , the head of a local militia, who helped the military fight Boko Haram for years.

A new wall was built, and topped with shiny barbed wire. Police built bunkers out of sandbags in a field alongside the camp and trained their guns on that wall.

But the residents of 1000 Housing Estate, a large government housing development for civil servants next door to Hajj Camp, still do not feel safe.

Some moved out as soon as they could. One, a nurse once driven from his home by Boko Haram, who lost everything but had found refuge in the estate, has started sleeping with a cutlass under his bed.

Many worried that it was just Boko Haram’s latest trick to attack Maiduguri. If so, they argued, from the terrorists’ point of view Hajj Camp couldn’t be better situated — very close to the airport, an air base and an artillery barracks.

“Is it true? How safe, how secure are we?” Those are the questions that Aji Kyari, secretary-general of the residents’ association of 1000 Housing Estate, gets over and over from petrified residents. He said they had received no warning about Hajj Camp’s new occupants.

“Our concern now is, suppose the unrepentant ones decide to attack those who have repented. That’s where we have a problem, as a community,” he said. “It’s a war. ”

This is not the first time Boko Haram fighters have defected. Hundreds of Boko Haram members have gone through Nigeria’s deradicalization program, Operation Safe Corridor, though mixed up among them have been many civilians .

But never before have thousands surrendered, as they have now. Boko Haram is so shadowy that estimates of its size have ranged from as few as 1,500 fighters to what one high-level defector said was about 40,000 people, including fighters and their entourage of family members and captives.

Government officials refused multiple requests for interviews for this story. Babagana Zulum, the governor of Borno state, of which Maiduguri is the capital, has imposed a ban on any official speaking to the press. But he called the mass defections “a very welcome development, unless we want to continue with an endless war.”

“I see no reason why we should reject those who are willing to surrender,” Mr. Zulum said last month after meeting with the president .

Mr. Kyari has been trying to calm the residents of 1000 Housing Estate, pointing out that the defectors came to Hajj Camp willingly. But privately, he has his doubts about their change of heart.

“Have they truly repented, or is it a war tactic to come back into the community?” he said. “That question mark is big.”

Back to Map

Violent Extremism in the Sahel

Center for Preventive Action

A boy runs away from billowing smoke in a town center.

Spanning the area from Senegal to Eritrea, situated between the Sahara to the north and the African tropics to the south, the Sahel region has long faced severe, complex security and humanitarian crises. Since gaining independence in the 1960s, many countries in the Sahel have experienced violent extremism due to the confluence of weak and illegitimate governance, economic decline, and the worsening effects of climate change. Violence, conflict, and crime have surged over the  last decade , transcending national borders and posing significant challenges to countries both in and outside the region. The epicenters of violence and humanitarian disaster are in the Liptako-Gourma and Lake Chad Basin subregions. 

Liptako-Gourma is in the central Sahel, in the borderlands of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Current instability is associated with the collapse of the Libyan state in 2011, which led to the  proliferation of weapons and armed fighters  in the region. The influx of extremists into northern Mali reignited the dormant  Tuareg rebellion [PDF] in 2012, which had previously surfaced in 1963, 1990, and 2006. Representing only 10 percent of the Malian population,  the Tuareg people, organized under the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), sought an autonomous state and aligned themselves with multiple Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Ansar Dine to push government forces out of the north. Then-President Amadou Toumani Touré was  deposed in a March 2012 coup by the army, which disapproved of the government’s failure to suppress the rebellion. The consequent collapse of state institutions in the north enabled the MNLA to capture  the regional capitals of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu; the group had declared the  independent state of Azawad [PDF] in northern Mali by April. The MNLA quickly  split  from al-Qaeda and other allied Islamist groups in June following their attempt to impose Islamic law and declare an Islamic caliphate over the northern territory.  

After a period of relative calm, the crisis deteriorated in January 2013 as AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine pushed further south  to capture Konna in central Mali. In August, Mali transitioned back to a civilian-led government under Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, which later signed a  peace agreement  with a coalition of Tuareg independence groups including the MNLA in 2015. The coalition excluded Islamist organizations, which quickly took advantage of the agreement to  expand their control , spreading further into central Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. Liptako-Gourma has since become a hotbed for violent extremism in the Sahel.  

Notable attacks  [PDF] targeting the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali, the Splendid Hotel in Burkina Faso, and L’Etoule du Sud Hotel in Ivory Coast in 2015 and 2016 demonstrated the extent of the Islamist threat to the Sahel and West Africa. In September 2016, the  Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS)  surfaced in Burkina Faso, launching its first major attack on a border post near the Burkinabe city of Markoye. In 2017, several al-Qaeda affiliates merged to form Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). The emergence of ISGS and JNIM—as well as the often contentious, occasionally cooperative relationship between the two—have  intensified violence  in the Sahel. Both JNIM and ISGS have  pushed farther south  in Liptako-Gourma, threatening the security of West Africa’s relatively stable coastal states. JNIM has more recently gained control over territory in northern and central Mali, while ISGS has been confined to northern Burkina Faso and western Niger due to  clashes  with JNIM that began in 2020. 

Violent extremism in the Lake Chad Basin at the intersection of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria prevailed in the same period with the reemergence of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Founded by Muhammed Yusuf in northeastern Nigeria in 2002,  Boko Haram  was forced underground in 2009 after Nigerian police forces killed over seven hundred members, including Yusuf, during a raid that July. Remaining members dispersed [PDF] to Afghanistan, Algeria, Chad, northern Mali, Niger, and Somalia. In June and August 2011, Boko Haram indicated its more expansive and aggressive strategy by launching  suicide attacks  [PDF] on police and the UN headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. The group gained international notoriety following its abduction  of 276 girls from the town of Chibok, Nigeria, giving rise to the global Bring Back Our Girls movement in April 2014.  

In 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State and rebranded as the Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP). A splinter faction of the original Boko Haram was active until 2021, when ISWAP killed its leader, absorbed its territory, and relegated its members to remote islands in Lake Chad. ISWAP has since established control of northeastern Nigeria and parts of Niger. 

Experts attribute the expansion of violent extremism in the Sahel to persistently weak governance, characterized by  corruption , democratic backsliding, legitimacy deficits, and human rights violations. Many countries in the region  share similar internal dynamics of inequality [PDF]—state power tends to be concentrated in southern, urban regions while rural, northern areas remain underdeveloped and ripe for exploitation by extremist groups. Thus, Sahel countries are consistently ranked high on the  Fragile State Index , particularly Chad, Mali, and Nigeria. Frequent transfers of power are also a problem: Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger experienced a combined twenty-five successful coups d’état between 1960 and 2022, most often resulting in the military overthrow of democratically elected civilian governments. Consecutive military coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021, resulting in Mali’s current interim government under the military junta, launched the region’s most recent so-called coup epidemic, which saw  similar occurrences  in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger. 

The death of Chadian President Idriss Déby on April 20, 2021, created a  leadership crisis in regional counterterrorism efforts. Under Déby, Chad and its military acted as a  linchpin  in regional security coalitions across both Liptako-Gourma and the Lake Chad Basin. The Multinational Joint Task Force ( MNJTF) —comprised of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria—was activated in 2014 to respond to the threat of Boko Haram, organized crime, and banditry in the Lake Chad Basin. In February 2017, France and the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5) countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—announced the creation of the  G5 Sahel Force , a five-thousand-troop-strong counterterrorism force aimed at fighting militant groups with an expanded mandate to cross borders in the Sahel region. Increasing  civilian casualties  and severe human rights violations by security forces in Chad , Mali , and  Nigeria have further undermined regional and national efforts. 

In 2013, international involvement began in earnest when French forces entered Mali at the request of the Malian government. Operation Serval, later transformed into  Operation Barkhane , became a three-thousand-strong force based in N’Djamena, Chad, focused on rooting out violent extremists in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, in partnership with local governments and with the support of Chad and Mauritania. In 2015, Operation Barkhane’s mandate expanded to provide additional  support to the MNJTF  [PDF] in its fight against Boko Haram. Operation Barkhane was quickly succeeded by the establishment of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and, in 2020, support from the European Union–led Task Force Takuba . By 2020, France had  deployed  5,100 troops supported by 15,000 UN peacekeepers from around the world . The United States has also provided logistics and advisory support [PDF] to both the MNJTF and G5 Sahel Force. In addition, the  U.S. military has increased its presence  in the Sahel, deploying approximately 1,500 troops to the region and building a  drone base  in Niger as a platform for strikes against groups across West and North Africa. Despite the relatively small contingency of U.S. forces, American service members have been in the direct line of fire. On October 4, 2017, members of the U.S. Special Operations Task Force were ambushed by an Islamic State–affiliate group in Tongo Tongo, Niger, leading to the deaths of four servicemen. 

Despite increased international involvement, the campaign against militants has instead caused the spread of militancy to countries  across the Sahel . That failure, coupled with France’s growing  tensions  with and  unpopularity  in its former colonies, led French President Emmanuel Macron  to announce  on July 13, 2021, that Operation Barkhane would end in the first quarter of 2022. Violent extremists exploited the resulting security vacuum with  heightened attacks  across the Sahel. Many attacks have specifically targeted MINUSMA, which has been dubbed the United Nations’  most dangerous peacekeeping mission. In lieu of French support, the Malian military junta sought security assistance from the  Wagner Group , a Russian mercenary organization involved in other fragile contexts including the Central African Republic, Libya, Mozambique, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. Since its  introduction  in December 2021, the Wagner Group has deployed one thousand mercenaries to Mali housed at fifteen outposts, including former French bases. 

An acute humanitarian crisis is exacerbating violent extremism’s threat to regional stability. The last decade of conflict has displaced 2.6 million people in Liptako-Gourma and  2.8 million  people in the Lake Chad Basin, with hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into neighboring countries. Sahel countries consistently  rank [PDF] among the world’s poorest with  compounding issues [PDF] of poverty,  food insecurity , high unemployment, and the world’s fastest-growing population. The Lake Chad Basin crisis has long been recognized as one of the  worst humanitarian disasters  in the world due to the severe harm of climate change  and weak governance in rural areas. Temperatures in the Sahel are rising  1.5 times faster  than the global average, directly damaging the livelihoods of millions  dependent upon natural resources . Diminishing land and water resources have led to increasingly frequent  clashes between herding, farming, and fishing communities. Violent extremist organizations have not only helped worsen humanitarian conditions, including by targeting humanitarian workers, but have also exploited  insecure conditions to recruit and control populations in the Sahel. In addition, the weakened economies and proliferating violent extremists have increased  illicit activity and criminal organizations in the region, further contributing to instability.  

The persistent and growing strength  of violent extremist organizations in the Sahel threatens to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis and spread instability across Africa, posing significant security and financial risks to the United States and Europe. The impending collapse of international counterterrorism support, as well as  weakening leadership  in regional efforts, has created a vacuum in which violent extremism can expand. The  Wagner Group  has already taken advantage of that vacuum, moving into Mali and launching indiscriminate operations against Malian civilians. The possible convergence [PDF] of security threats, including increased cooperation amongst terrorist organizations, principally  ISGS and ISWAP, and between terrorist and criminal organizations, could intensify the danger those groups pose in the region and beyond.  

In addition, the Sahel remains a principal  transit point  for migrants traveling from sub-Saharan Africa to northern coastal states and on to Europe. Further violence could exponentially increase the rate of  displacement and migration  from the region, compounding pressures on northern and coastal African states and Europe. A worsening humanitarian situation would further strain U.S. and international aid efforts, particularly as the United States continues to have long-standing development and security commitments in the region. The United States remains a top donor of humanitarian assistance; to have long-standing development and security commitments in the region. The United States remains a top donor of humanitarian assistance ; continues to provide military training, such as the Flintlock program; and has delivered millions of dollars in arms sales to the region.   

In February 2022, France and its European allies comprising Task Force Takuba  announced  their intent to withdraw all troops from Mali, ending their decades-long intervention. Emboldened by the removal of foreign forces, extremist organizations have stepped up violence in the region. The first six months of 2022 saw a  dramatic increase  in attacks, particularly in the Liptako-Gourma area and spilling into coastal West Africa. More than  two thousand civilians  were killed during this period, an over 50 percent increase from 2021. March 2022 was the deadliest month recorded by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project since 1997—coinciding with  renewed activism by ISGS  along the Niger-Mali border and the Moura massacre in central Mali. On March 23, Malian soldiers accompanied by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group launched  a five-day attack  on the town to root out Islamist militants, killing more than three hundred civilians. The United Nations has since called for  an investigation  into the incident, which has been part of a larger pattern of increasing human rights violations by the Malian security forces since the introduction of the Wagner Group in December 2021. 

In May 2022, the Malian government  officially terminated  its Defense Cooperation Treaty with France alongside the Status of Force Agreement formerly governing France and the European Union’s operations in the country. Mali’s military government also pulled out of the G5 Sahel —greatly diminishing the organization’s counterterrorism capacity. In June, JNIM  killed 132 villagers  in central Mali, the deadliest attack on civilians since the coup. Regional patterns have indicated a marked increase in  civilian targeting  across Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in particular. 

Following  violent protests  over the government’s counterterrorism efforts, a  military coup  in Burkina Faso led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba overthrew democratically elected President Roch Marc Christain Kaboré on January 24, 2022. The Economic Community of West African States subsequently  banned  Burkina Faso, and the African Union followed suit. Since then, ISGS has launched a  series  of deadly attacks, including the  massacre  of one hundred civilians in the northern village of Seytenga in June. In September, Damiba  was deposed  by Captain Ibrahim Traoré in a second military coup. Traoré has since dissolved the government, suspended the constitution, and closed the country’s borders. Speculation regarding Traoré’s connection to the U.S. military has prompted investigations into the role of U.S. military training in the region’s coup epidemic, as the Pentagon has been unable to confirm or deny the link to Traoré.  

On October 24, 2022, the United States and United Kingdom  announced  the recall of embassy officials from Abuja, citing a heightened risk of a significant terrorist attack. That decision came after several spates of  gun violence  across northern Nigeria not officially attributed to extremist organizations—including an incident that same month where a gunman opened fire on villagers in Nigeria’s Benue State, leaving thirty-six people dead .  

In January 2023, UN experts advocated for an independent investigation into potential war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by government forces and the Wagner Group in Mali. The experts claimed a “climate of terror and complete impunity” characterized the Wagner Group’s activities in the country, pointing to the Moura massacre in March 2022. 

Woman holding baby escorted by African Union troops.

Latest News

Sign up for our newsletter, receive the center for preventive action's quarterly snapshot of global hot spots with expert analysis on ways to prevent and mitigate deadly conflict..

United States Institute of Peace

Home ▶ Publications

What Is Boko Haram?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 / By: Andrew Walker

Publication Type: Special Report

The group Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad, known the world over as Boko Haram, is an extremist Islamic sect in Nigeria that has created havoc across the north of the country and in the capital, Abuja. Its violent attacks on government offices, the United Nations, and churches threaten to destabilize the country. A range of conflicting narratives has grown up around Boko Haram, and the group’s origins, motivations, and future plans remain a matter of debate. This report addresses the questions stemming from these narratives and suggests how the group can be contained.


About the Report

The group Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'Awati Wal Jihad, known the world over as Boko Haram, is an extremist Islamic sect in Nigeria that has created havoc across the north of the country and in the capital, Abuja. Its violent attacks on government offices, the United Nations, and churches threaten to destabilize the country. A range of conflicting narratives has grown up around Boko Haram, and the group's origins, motivations, and future plans remain a matter of debate. This report addresses the questions stemming from these narratives and suggests how the group can be contained. The report is based on the author's extensive research and reporting on Boko Haram. In March 2011, he conducted an interview with a senior member of the group in the city of Maiduguri, Nigeria, the center of Boko Haram's area of influence. The report also draws on interviews with Nigerian journalists who have covered the group (and who asked to remain anonymous in this report) and on information provided to the author by other researchers working on Boko Haram.

About the Author

Andrew Walker is a freelance journalist who has covered Nigeria since 2006. He lived in Nigeria for four years, working first at the Nigerian Daily Trust newspaper and then for the British Broadcasting Corporation's news website.

Related Publications

A Key Election for Nigeria Raises a Rising Demand: Inclusion

A Key Election for Nigeria Raises a Rising Demand: Inclusion

Thursday, February 16, 2023

By: Chris Kwaja;   Joseph Sany, Ph.D.

Nigerians, nearly one-sixth of all Africans, will choose a new president next week in what may be Africa’s most consequential election of 2023. A central demand amid this campaign is a better inclusion of Nigeria’s hundreds of ethnic, religious and other communities in elections and governance.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

The Latest @ USIP: What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s Elections? (Part 2)

The Latest @ USIP: What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s Elections? (Part 2)

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

By: Ibrahim Gambari

Nigeria’s national elections later this month will have major implications not only for Nigeria, but for West Africa and the continent more broadly. Ibrahim Gambari, chief of staff to the term-limited President Muhammadu Buhari, says the outgoing president has made organizing a peaceful, free and fair election process a cornerstone of the legacy he hopes to hand to his successor — and that he hopes civil society, political leaders and international partners like the United States can rally behind Nigerians as they exercise their right to vote.

Nigeria’s Buhari Vows a Credible Election to Bolster Democracy

Nigeria’s Buhari Vows a Credible Election to Bolster Democracy

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

By: USIP Staff

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says he expects a credible election to choose his successor in just 10 weeks. A credible, publicly accepted result and a peaceful transfer of power could help consolidate democracy in Africa’s most populous country following democratic setbacks in the region, notably seven coups in 26 months in the Sahel and West Africa. Buhari, first elected in 2015, is completing his second term in office, the constitutional maximum, and is to hand power to his elected successor in May — an extension of democracy that Buhari has said he wants to ensure as part of his legacy to the country.

The Latest @ USIP: What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s Elections?

The Latest @ USIP: What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s Elections?

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

By: Mahmood Yakubu

Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, discusses how his team is working to ensure free, fair and credible elections — as well as why the support of young people and political leaders is crucial for maintaining the longest period of uninterrupted democratic governance in the Nigeria’s history.



special assignment boko haram

A young boy is flogged in a public square. Onlookers shout “God is great.” Boko Haram militants shoot civilians in the heart and head, ignoring pleas of innocence and prayers.

The report below contains graphic images from secret Boko Haram videos obtained by VOA. The harsh violence may offend some viewers. It shows the reality and cruelty of life under Boko Haram’s rule.

In the Nigerian town of Kumshe, a man accused of drug dealing prays seconds before being executed by Boko Haram. (Boko Haram video)

special assignment boko haram

In the northern Nigerian village of Kumshe, the terror group Boko Haram administered a violent and distorted version of Islamic law. Transgressions like wearing western-style clothing or getting a secular education carried extreme punishments. Purported drug dealers – such as the offenders shown in these videos – were sentenced to beatings and death.

Raw, unedited video of Boko Haram operating inside its territory in Nigeria is rare. The group is known for secrecy and carefully hides the identities of members and their whereabouts.

But VOA News obtained 18 hours of uncut videos in which the group recorded scenes of its own brutality. The images, from a Boko Haram laptop captured in a military raid, testify to the devastating suffering Nigerians endured under Boko Haram.

Watch the full “Boko Haram: Terror Unmasked”, Part 1 video.

The execution of the men in the town of Kumshe, and other scenes showing Boko Haram members callously going about the daily business of their self-proclaimed caliphate are the subject of a VOA four-part video series, “Boko Haram: Terror Unmasked.”

The unedited recordings made little or no effort to hide the group’s most brutal acts. By all indications – time stamps on the videos, references by fighters, events described in news broadcasts heard in the background – the recordings were made in late 2014 and 2015, a period of expansion by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria.

special assignment boko haram

The town of Kumshe is where the executions by Boko Haram took place.

A Boko Haram fighter walks through the town of Banki as militants wage an attack on a nearby military barracks. (Boko Haram video)

special assignment boko haram

Throughout its seven-year insurgency, Boko Haram has attacked government and civilian targets to win territory and instill fear across northern Nigeria. Leaders promise young foot soldiers martyrdom, conscripting them and sending them into battle lightly armed and with little training. The group has abducted thousands of women and children.

The videos recorded by Boko Haram chronicle one attack on a Nigerian army barracks in the town of Banki. Fighters gather in the morning, and leaders prep them to kill and be killed. The assault turns into chaos, with some militants begging for a gun.

Watch the full “Boko Haram: Terror Unmasked”, Part 2 video.

Later, the Boko Haram fighters execute civilians in a nearby village after first interrogating them to find food and money. Boko Haram finances itself with kidnapping for ransom and with extortion and robbery, among other things.

Three boys are questioned by Boko Haram militants after their village was taken. (Boko Haram video)

special assignment boko haram

Boko Haram’s campaign of violence has shattered lives, spread fear, displaced millions and destroyed the social order across northeastern Nigeria.

When the militants capture a village, interrogations follow. The goal: to extract information about the loyalties and whereabouts of loved ones who have fled.

Boko Haram’s purpose, as stated by its longtime leader, Abubakar Shekau, is to wage a holy war, ridding Nigeria of any western influences and creating a strict Islamic state. In practice, the group has shown little mercy for Nigerian Muslims, attacking mosques and majority-Muslim towns.

special assignment boko haram

Source: Institute for Economics & Peace: Global Terrorism Index 2015 and 2016

Boko Haram members prepare to cut off the hands of two civilians accused of theft. (Boko Haram video)

special assignment boko haram

The Boko Haram video below shows leaders justifying killings and other atrocities based on their distorted religious ideology.

At a public tribunal, a messenger steps forward. He speaks for Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram leader in hiding, as militants prepare to execute two of their own.

The charge: homosexuality.

Watch the full “Boko Haram: Terror Unmasked”, Part 3 video.

Boko Haram’s violent interpretation of Islam traces to the teachings of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf preached that western education was sinful. Tension between Nigerian authorities and the group escalated into deadly violence in 2009, when police cracked down on Yusuf’s followers and executed Yusuf in the street.

Shekau believes that attacking civilian targets, kidnapping schoolgirls and killing “unbelievers” – Muslims or not – are justified in the name of “jihad.” Religious scholars in Nigeria emphatically reject Boko Haram’s violent theology.

An abandoned gas station, near a camp for the homeless in Bama, destroyed by Boko Haram. (VOA)

special assignment boko haram

At its peak, Boko Haram controlled a territory twice the size of Belgium. The group’s occupation displaced more than 2 million Nigerians and has led to widespread food insecurity.

Today, many towns formerly under Boko Haram control have been liberated by the Nigerian military and neighboring states. VOA News traveled to northeast Nigeria in September 2016 to confirm military claims of improved security and see firsthand the human cost of Boko Haram’s insurgency.

Accompanied by a 12-truck military convoy outfitted with anti-aircraft guns, VOA visited cities once considered off limits and witnessed how Nigerians are attempting to rebuild. In areas not under military control, Boko Haram remains a threat. The group continues to launch suicide bombings and armed attacks on civilian and military targets.

special assignment boko haram

Source: International Organization for Migration, Nigeria, December 2016

Two men from Kumshe react to photos of Boko Haram atrocities in their village. (VOA)

special assignment boko haram

One refugee from Kumshe confirmed that his village was the scene of executions and beatings recorded in the Boko Haram videos.

Shown still images of the village square taken from the videos, he broke down and cried.

Watch the full “Boko Haram: Terror Unmasked”, Part 4 video.

LEARN MORE Read about Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. Watch the “Boko Haram: Terror Unmasked” series. Learn how VOA obtained the Boko Haram videos. Read about Nigeria's fight against Boko Haram. Watch the "Boko Haram: Terror Unmasked" series. Learn how VOA obtained the Boko Haram videos.

special assignment boko haram

Written by Salem Solomon

Designed and produced by Tatenda Gumbo and Steven Ferri

This site is optimised for modern web browsers, and does not fully support your version of Internet Explorer.


black sea

europe center

A formation of Dongfeng-41 nuclear missiles takes part in a military parade celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, China, October 1, 2019. (Photo by Xia Yifang/Xinhua via Getty Images)

A Ukrainian serviceman fires during a joint military training of armed forces, national guards, border guards and Security Service of Ukraine in Rivne region, near the border with Belarus, on February 11, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP) (Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

special assignment boko haram

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia Demeke Mekonnen at the Russian Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 27, 2022. (Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Origins of Boko Haram—And Why It Matters

special assignment boko haram

Nigeria’s population of an estimated 200 million people is plagued by an alarming level of violence, which is driven by a toxic mix of brutal extremist groups, criminal gangs and a cropland crisis. These feed into one another, and each is little understood. A key player in the present carnage is Boko Haram, a notorious organization which claims to fight in defense of Islam.

Over the last decade from 2009-2019, Boko Haram has waged a campaign of mass violence and wrought havoc in Africa’s Lake Chad region, which comprises northern Nigeria, southeastern Niger, far-northern Cameroon and western Chad. The Boko Haram movement has killed a conservative estimate of 18,000 people, 1 displaced millions, and caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis. 2 In 2014, it was recorded as the world’s deadliest terror group, killing 6,600 in that year alone. 3 Boko Haram is particularly notorious for its violence against children. Indeed, the movement was first catapulted into the attention of western media in April 2014 by its kidnapping of 276 girls from their school dormitory in Chibok village, north-eastern Nigeria. It uses girls as sexual and domestic slaves and as human bombs, targeting civilian locations including markets, hospitals, IDP camps and places of worship. It has also conscripted thousands of boys into its army and forces them to kill in order to keep themselves alive. 4 Boko Haram has established itself as a formidable force and, judging from security force fatalities of 750 in 2019 which is the highest since the violence began, it now appears to be stronger than ever. 5

Boko Haram originally formed in 2003, and today the movement is split into three different factions. These include Jama’atu Ahl al-Sunna lid Da’wati wa al-Jihad (JAS), which is popularly called Boko Haram, and which is led by Abubakar Shekau. Shekau has been the group’s sole leader from 2009 until its first split in 2012 when members disgruntled by Shekau’s indiscriminate killing of civilians formed Ansaru al-Musulmina fi Bilad al-Sudan (Ansaru). Then, in August 2016, after Shekau defied ISIS’s announcement of his deposition, 6 yet another rift emerged resulting in the Islamic State-West Africa Province (ISWAP) as a declared affiliate ( wilayat ) of the ISIS “caliphate” movement. JAS and ISWAP, with a combined estimated 5,000-7,000 fighters, are active in the Lake Chad region where they continue to attack military formations, kill civilians, raid and torch villages, and engage in abductions. 7 Ansaru is based in northwestern Nigeria and has not claimed any attack since 2013, although it still releases messages intended to recruit and radicalize the public. It was recently reported that JAS and ISWAP fighters are defecting to Ansaru due to military pressure in the Lake Chad region. This raises the threat of renewed violence from Ansaru. 8

By its own account, Boko Haram and its rise since 2003 has been inspired by ideologues, events and groups across the world including by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. And yet, despite several books and over 500 reports and articles written about it since its emergence, very little is known including by Nigerians themselves about the group’s origins. That is so because existing literature regarding the group is primarily based on unverified media reports, penned by researchers who spent very minimal time in the field, and by a narrow selection of interviewees whose reports have sometimes been tainted by bias.

While Boko Haram continues to wreak bloody havoc, debates over its genesis and links to other so-called jihadi groups continue. These have divided scholars into two broad camps. First, scholars such as Alex Thurston, Adam Hijazi and Kyari Mohammed see Boko Haram as a “home-grown” group, one that was birthed by systemic and structural local factors while treating the role and influence of al-Qaeda and international jihadism on the group as “marginal” or secondary. 9

Second, other researchers led by Andrea Brigaglia and Jacob Zenn de-emphasize the importance of local factors and promote the role of international jihadi organizations, principally al-Qaeda, to the rise and evolution of Boko Haram. 10 At the heart of this debate, which has recently fallen into ad hominem attacks, 11 is a violent episode that occurred during 2003-4 in Kanamma, a desert village in north-eastern Nigeria. This episode concerned a commune that formed part of the nucleus that would become Boko Haram.

Over the years, that episode has become a landmark in Boko Haram’s history. Virtually every author writing about the genesis of the group has dedicated some time to it. 12 However, the scholarly and journalistic analysis of this event is replete with contradictions, confusion and exaggerations. Scholars dispute each other’s statements, sometimes inadvertently. Accounts of what happened are profoundly different, indicating a general lack of clarity and knowledge about the incident. This is because virtually all writers rely on second-hand information—mostly unverified media reports which have, in turn, relied on more second-hand information without critically assessing the sources’ reliability. It is thus a classic case of “little evidence, much confusion.”

What can be said without controversy is that at some point in 2003, a group of mostly young people from Maiduguri and elsewhere in northern Nigeria went to a northern part of Yobe state in the northeast, near the border with Niger. There, in the remote desert, they established a puritanical separatist community which defined itself in opposition to the “corrupting influence of city life.” Toward the end of 2003, the group clashed with police, looting vehicles and weapons. The commune was subsequently dismantled by the military, with some members killed and others arrested. The commune members that remained contained part of the seeds of Boko Haram.

Given the ongoing debate and misunderstandings surrounding this episode, it is important to understand this event not only for its academic and historical value, but also because it contributes to an understanding of how Boko Haram began, which has practical policy implications today. Among other things, understanding how Boko Haram began remains vital for the sake of successfully defeating the movement. It is essential, also, for the sake of noting early warning signs among similar groups—and preventing them from becoming as established and capable as Boko Haram is today.

Drawing on primary data, including extensive fieldwork in northeastern Nigeria and primary internal documents in Hausa, Kanuri and Arabic, this paper re-examines the Kanamma episode with a view to setting the record straight. It finds that the Kanamma commune was not an al-Qaeda training center, as some have speculated, nor was it a pacific religious community, as suggested by others. While this paper contends that there was no operational linkage between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in 2003 when the Nigerian group was founded, there is evidence of ideological connection between the duo from the very beginning. Understanding this is important for properly analyzing the Boko Haram phenomenon and helping policymakers design effective strategies to deal with the group and the crisis in Nigeria.

Little Evidence, Big Claims

A survey of the scholarly literature about Boko Haram reveals a great deal of confusion over almost every single detail of the 2003-2004 Kanamma episode. The fact that it happened in the first place and the time period in which it transpired are perhaps the only exceptions. Authors disagree with one another regarding not only the interpretation of events but on specific facts and figures: what was the population of the commune, for example. While Manuel Reinert, Andrew Walker and others claim it comprised some 200, David Cook estimated the “Kanamma Group” at between 800-1000. Other details are similarly contradictory, such as the number of casualties in the clash, who directed it, what led to the violence, among other things. The reader is left with the difficult task of sorting through a deluge of irreconcilable narratives. 13

When the Kanamma commune grabbed its first headlines in early 2004, it was labelled the “Nigerian Taleban” ( sic ) implying it was somehow related to the Afghan Taliban. The portrayal of the commune in the predominantly Christian-run media of southern Nigeria was particularly instrumental to this branding, and this was later adopted by Western media. 14 The label could merely have been a device to relate what was going on in Nigeria with the then-current “global war on terror,” or simply something to sell newspapers. But it might also have been deployed for mischievous or stereotypical motives. Nigerian media is not immune to the religious polarization and divisiveness that has characterized the country and its politics since its independence in 1960. Southern Nigerian media has consistently sought to portray the North as an Islamist population that cannot coexist with others. Perhaps that is why when Boko Haram appeared in its current iteration in 2009, its leader was called “The Leader of Nigerian Taliban” before the current nomenclature was adopted. 15

As a result of this newspaper reporting, serious attempts to link the Kanamma commune with the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan began to appear. David Cook, for instance, suggests that there may have been members of Boko Haram in Afghanistan during the Kanamma episode, even though he also questions that same possibility in the next sentence. 16 Citing news media published years after the episode, Freedom Onuoha takes this theory further. He states that the Kanamma commune occupied public buildings for several days, “hoisting the flag of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement over the camps,” and that the group inscribed “Taliban” on their vehicles and called their camp “Afghanistan.” 17

Building on this, some academics began to speculate that in actuality Boko Haram began as an al-Qaeda project. 18 They misinterpreted the Kanamma episode as a clash between the Nigerian police and an al-Qaeda training camp established in northern Nigeria with funding from Osama Bin Laden. Thus, they concluded that al-Qaeda played a significant role in the founding of Boko Haram. 19

What Actually Happened

During extensive fieldwork, I interviewed multiple local sources in Kanamma as to what actually happened. 20 Their account reveals a pattern with only slight variations. The following narrative is based on these accounts.

In the evening of Sunday, December 21, 2003, a group of some seventy persons (about fifty men and twenty women and children) arrived at the southern outskirts of Kanamma. The group cleared a forested site between two bodies of water next to Bakurna Barde’s farm and spent the night there. The following day, around eleven of them (eight men, three women) went to the village market to purchase provisions. Before they returned to their camp, they went around to youth haunts, calling on residents to abandon their “dirty temporal life” and join the group in the practice of true Islam and the establishment of an Islamic state that would enforce the sharia legal system. Female members entered houses and made the same invitation to women in purdah .

That same night, some members of the commune attacked the Kanamma police outpost with machetes, bows and arrows, and catapults, as well as one pistol. 21 They killed a police officer named Liman Umar, from Sokoto state, and seized his rifle. From there, they raided the house of Alhaji Komfasa, the chairman of the local government, who escaped by scaling a fence. The commune members fled by stealing a four-wheel drive car. They proceeded to Geidam, about thirty-five kilometers away, and looted the local government secretariat and the police station there.

On December 25, police officers were mobilized to the site of the commune but returned without any casualties on either side. It appears that there was, in fact, no violence at all that day; the police could not access the camp due to its defensive position between two bodies of water, and its only entrance was barricaded with sandbags and a trench in anticipation of a counterattack.

On December 31, soldiers and tanks were deployed from 241 Recce Battalion in Nguru (about two hundred ten kilometers away). The troops entered the camp in the early hours of January 1, 2004, and at sunrise passed through Kanamma in a truck carrying about twenty bodies, including that of Baalai, said to be the leader of the commune, as well as women and children. Dispersed fighters were later spotted by villagers, walking either west or southward. Some of them went through Kanamma where they received treatment for minor wounds (largely incurred in the bush) before leaving. Several respondents stated that the commune, now being theorized as an “al-Qaeda training camp,” actually only lasted in Kanamma for about ten days from December 21, 2003 to January 1, 2004. Meanwhile, the actual fighting was over within hours. 22 This signals that this incident is hugely exaggerated, and also sharply contradicts the suggestion made by Brigalia that Kanamma existed for years. 23

Residents stated that they were later informed that the same group had previously established a commune on the outskirts of another village called Tarmowa, about sixty-three kilometers from Kanamma. The local government chairman, Alhaji Komfasa—whose house they had raided on December 21, 2003—had asked them to vacate their encampment in that town. However, Boko Haram scholars appear to be unaware of Tarmowa. They only refer to Kanamma, where the violent clash occurred. This is because virtually all of them rely on Nigerian journalistic accounts which, in turn, rely on anonymous unverified sources. It may be that the activities of the commune in Tarmowa are confused with what transpired in Kanamma. 24

Inside the Tarmowa Commune

By 2003, there appeared an ideological crack in the ranks of the group that would later become Boko Haram. This crack formed into two main camps, one led by Muhammad Ali and the other by Muhammad Yusuf. The break was over two related issues. The first was whether a Muslim is permitted to live in Nigeria, which is viewed by the group as dar al-kufr (abode of unbelief). The second issue concerned timing for the launching of a jihad.

On the first issue, Ali believed it was not permitted for a Muslim to live in Nigeria. He argued the country was dar al-kufr, as the government does not rule by sharia law ( hukm bi gyari ma anzal Llah ) by permitting adultery, gambling, alcohol, etcetera. Therefore, the only option left to the group’s members was to do hijrah to a “pure” place—in the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad—and prepare for jihad .

On the other hand, Yusuf contended that it is permissible for Muslims to live in the land of disbelief provided they do not obey man-made laws and institutions, and that they disassociate from the country’s secular system ( al wala wa al-bara’ ). In addition, they must publicly announce their dissociation ( izhar al-din ). Articulating this position, Yusuf argued,

You must openly say this system is false; Islamic law is the only truth; that this constitution is false and it is disbelief ( kaafirci in Hausa); those who are employed under the government are working for falsehood and disbelief; the military system is false and it is disbelief; the police system is false and it is disbelief; working as a judge in this country under the constitution is false and it is disbelief. If you openly say these and everyone knows you with these [views], then you can live in the country. Otherwise, you must emigrate… 25 (emphasis added by author).

Yusuf went on to say that it was, in practical terms, more beneficial for members to stay in cities, so that they could recruit and radicalize. He argued it was necessary for the group to oppose and harden themselves against Muslim scholars, politicians and public servants, mainly police and the military, who defended the “un-Islamic system.” In keeping with some traditional jurists, Yusuf held that it was necessary to first “establish proof”—i.e., to preach against “un-Islamic” society and to attempt to call it back to Islam—before initiating jihad against them ( iqamatul hujjah ). Ali disagreed.

Thus, the second issue was over the appropriate time to declare a jihad in Nigeria. Ali contended that Nigeria was ripe for a jihad and that all pre-conditions were fulfilled in 2003. To Ali, their group had done enough preaching to convince people to repent and implement the Sharia, and that anyone that did not repent should just be fought. Yusuf argued otherwise. He thought there was need for more time to recruit members, to mobilize more grassroots support and to procure weapons.

All of this culminated in the split of Boko Haram into the Ali and Yusuf camps. 26 The Ali camp migrated to Tarmowa, a desert village about five kilometers from Geidam in northern Yobe state. Members mostly arrived in cars at Geidam around mid-2003, then boated to the outskirts of Tarmowa village. The new compound started with two people (apparently an advance team sent to find a suitable place) and gradually swelled to around seventy, including women and children. They erected huts and a jumu’aat mosque from tree branches and leaves, and they dug a well. 27 Families slept in huts while single men slept inside the mosque. When I visited the site in the company of several of my sources in February 2019, I saw the well which, to this day, contains water. I also identified the spot where the mosque stood.

On Fridays, some locals joined the commune for prayers. Commune members went on preaching tours to surrounding villages such as Zaji-Biriri, Zai and Bestur, and as a result, about a dozen youths joined them. 28 They condemned western-style education, democracy, as well as the traditional emirate system (which was deemed un-Islamic), and called on traditional rulers to relinquish their positions and submit to Islamic government. 29 A couple of months after their arrival, they started fishing in a nearby river, and engaged in paid labor and petty trading to earn a living. Some worked on farms for a fee while others traded in neighboring village markets such as Geidam, Bayamari and Dapchi. Women and children were in charge of cooking and domestic chores.

According to Abu Harun, a member of the commune who went there with his wife and four children (one of whom died in the attack on the camp in Kanamma), the commune did not name itself “Taliban” or “Afghanistan” but was called Dar al-Hijrah (the abode of fleeing); members called themselves “ muhajirun ”—i.e., the emigrants. The tag “ muhajirun ” is, of course, a homage to the early Muslims who migrated from their home in Mecca where they were persecuted for their faith, to Medina. It is also another indication of the religious/ideological undertones of the group and an attempt by them to play the victim and attribute their movement to early Islam.

Abu Harun claims that they did not have arms nor conduct military training. They only engaged in physical exercise such as boxing and martial arts. Residents whom I spoke with, who passed around the site including at night, stated that they did not notice any military training, nor did they ever hear gunshots. Members got armed with machetes, catapults and so forth after they received an eviction notice from the local authorities.

Except for one dispute, which led to a fight with one Kachallah Ngubdo, there was never an incident between the commune and the local communities. 30 Members accused Ngubdo (a hunter) of invading their privacy because he passed near their site at night when hunting. The dispute was settled by the traditional ruler of Besbur, who directed the commune to return Ngubdo’s hunting weapon and amulets to him, with which they complied. Contrary to multiple published accounts, 31 residents said there was no dispute between them and the commune over fishing rights. “There never was any dispute over fishing in this area. The river is free for everyone because it a gift from God for all of us” said Lawan Amadu, the traditional ruler of Zai village.

Around October 2003, efforts to evict the commune began, not because of a dispute with villagers, but because of the local authorities’ apprehension about the commune’s intentions. 32 Local authorities saw the commune as an attempt to create a separatist community—effectively “a state within a state.”

The site was under the administration of the defunct Bukarti Development Area, which inaugurated an ad hoc committee to persuade the group to vacate the site. The committee paid several visits, with a view to convincing the commune to leave. The group, however, insisted on staying and explained that the land belonged to God, and they did not constitute a threat to anyone. They explained to the committee that they were fleeing from urban life because it distracted them from reciting the Quran, praying and fasting. 33

When the committee’s attempts to encourage the commune to leave failed, the matter was reported to the Yobe state government, which got the police involved. Around the second week of December 2003, the Yobe state police command gave the commune a seven-day ultimatum to vacate. On the expiration of the ultimatum, the group packed up and left the site on trucks. Before they left, they announced to villagers and distributed pamphlets stating that they had been denied the right to practice their faith, and thus were going to fight. They claimed that were launching a jihad and invited residents to join them. From Tarmowa, the group left for Kanamma.

Setting the Record Straight

As we’ve seen, Boko Haram was inspired by ideologues, events and groups across the world including Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. In fact, Yusuf’s sons recollect that their fathers’ tipping point for founding Boko Haram was the success of the 9/11 attack, which occurred while Yusuf was on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. 34

Furthermore, when Boko Haram decided to unleash full-blown violence in 2009, after about two hundred members of the group were killed during July of that year, the group requested technical and financial support from al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghrib (AQIM), which acquiesced. Shekau later thanked AQIM for training and financial support. 35 This is an indication that post-2009, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram have developed operational linkages. However, there is no credible evidence that operational connections between the two existed before 2009 and particularly during 2003—that is, at the time of Boko Haram’s founding, when claims about its links to transnational jihadism were first being made.

For now, let us proceed to examine the two major premises upon which the theory linking Kanamma to al-Qaeda was built; the involvement of Ali, who reportedly received a grant from Bin Laden to start a cell in Nigeria, and reports that the commune’s residents kept “the Nigerian security busy in a fire exchange that lasted over several days.” 36

On the first premise, Abu Harun confirms that Ali was involved in the camp and was the head of the splinter group. But he did not stay at Tarmowa or Kanamma. He lived in Gashua, about a hundred and forty-seven kilometers away, and only occasionally visited the commune. Ali was not on site when the camp was attacked by the military, nor was he among those killed there. He later joined some dispersed members after escaping from a police attempt to arrest him in Gashua, which took place immediately after the camp was dislodged. He then headed to the Mandara Mountains in Borno state, but was killed along the road. 37

The account linking Ali to Bin Laden and al-Qaeda is not supported with credible evidence. Ali’s alleged meeting with Osama Bin Laden in Sudan, his training in Afghanistan and receipt of a $3 million grant from him in 2000 to start an al-Qaeda cell in Nigeria, was first reported by the International Crisis Group in 2014 (ten years after Kanamma). 38 This claim is based on a single interview with an anonymous Boko Haram member. It is not clear where and how that purported member got his information: Was he with Ali in Sudan or was he informed? Was he a party to the transfer of funds or did he hear about it from Ali, Bin Laden or a third party? Was he a member in Kanamma or did he remain with Yusuf after the split? Or did he join Boko Haram later?

The report does not answer any of these germane questions, nor does it even indicate whether its source ever met Ali at all. Little wonder then that the report itself qualifies its claims about Ali and his connections with al-Qaeda with “reportedly” and “allegedly.” In fact, these terms were used fifty-one and twenty-one times respectively in the report, indicating that the information should be taken with a pitch of salt. Curiously, however, instead of this claim being treated with the caution that it rightly deserves, it gradually started being presented by others as established fact. The caveats (“reportedly” and “allegedly”) were surreptitiously edited out or tweaked by scholars passionate about the theory. 39

On the second premise, as can be seen above in the eye-witness account of what transpired in Kanamma, the commune did not hold its own against security forces for days as claimed by some Boko Haram scholars. Soldiers from Nguru invaded the camp in the early hours of January 1, 2004 and, by sunrise the same day, they were back in Kanamma with bodies of those killed and prisoners. Thus, the attack on the group lasted hours, not days, much less weeks.

As explained above, an attempt to evict them on December 25, 2003 ended without an encounter because the police could not access the commune. Similarly, there are no reports of weapons other than armes blanches seized from the camp. If rifles and other assault weapons were recovered, one might expect Yobe State Government’s press release on the incident to have indicated so. 40 On the contrary, the government stated that the group was not a training camp.

On the other hand, unlike separatist religious communes like Darul Salam , 41 (a revivalist group of about 3,000-4,000 who lived in Mokwa, north-central Nigeria until they were dislodged by police in 2009 without violence) Kanamma was not the pacifist commune as presented by some writers. Boko Haram has made clear from the get-go that its ultimate aim was to launch a jihad to rid its area of secular systems and governments, and to replace them with a puritanical Islamic government. For instance, in Yusuf’s “History of Muslims” —an important lecture that Kassim says should be regarded as Yusuf’s “political and religious testament” 42 —Yusuf explained,

The only thing that will stop them [that is Nigerian government and Christians] from insulting the prophet or killing Muslims is jihad . . . [but] we must first and foremost embark upon preaching towards Islamic reform. Then, we will have to be patient until we acquire power. This is the foundation of this preaching towards Islamic reform [ da’wa ]. It was founded for the sake of jihad and we did not hide this objective from anyone…

As highlighted above, members of the Kanamma commune subscribed to this ideology. In fact, it was their zealousness to implement it that led to their break away from Yusuf and their subsequent migration. They went to Tarmowa to fulfill one of the pre-conditions of jihad and to prepare for it. They lived in peace with local communities, and did not target them when they raided government buildings and police outposts in Kanamma and neighboring villages, 43 not only because they were a secondary target, but also because they saw them as a “recruitment pool.” If anything, efforts to eject them only drew them into a fight they were not prepared for. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they were the ones who instigated the violence, which points to their ultimately violent intentions.

In the final analysis, there is no credible evidence of any operational link between the Kanamma commune and al-Qaeda, and theories linking the two are, at best, speculative. And Kanamma is just one example of the contradictions and occasional confusion regarding landmark events in the existing Boko Haram literature. This is partly due to the fact that very few field studies have been conducted on the group, and those few have been limited in scope. Scholars mostly rely on unverified secondary accounts. While this can be forgiven in 2012 to 2015, when the areas where Boko Haram originally emerged were extremely dangerous for researchers, the situation has improved since 2016. This presents a real opportunity for scholars and journalists to do a better job at understanding the sources of Boko Haram.

Furthermore, as our sojourn to better understand this phenomenon continues, scholars who study Boko Haram should allow the facts and evidence on the ground to direct them, rather than seeking evidence that supports their preconceptions. Holding on to previous positions, while tweaking sources or ignoring reliable evidence to defend them will only exacerbate disagreements, some of which have recently degenerated into ad hominem attacks among Boko Haram scholars. Worse still, while the fight against Boko Haram is ongoing, such controversies detract from the effort to supply policy makers with the knowledge and context they require to design effective strategies for countering the violence.

Understanding early Boko Haram—an aspect of which was treated in this paper—has practical policy implications. First, it will give policymakers a fair idea of the conditions and circumstances that led to the rise and evolution of Boko Haram and thus make them better placed to confront them. Second, appreciating the origins and early links of Boko Haram—or lack of them—and similarly-inspired groups will help governments to choose the best approach to dealing with the group. For instance, if Boko Haram started as a domestic group with local grievances and agenda, policy solutions to the group, developed by the Nigerian government and other concerned parties, will markedly differ from decisions made if Boko Haram started as an al-Qaeda-linked representative in Nigeria. Third, and last, comprehending the real story of Boko Haram’s emergence and increasingly dangerous operations can help to expose early warning signs about similar groups in the future. This is essential if policymakers are to have any chance of preventing marginal groups possessed of local grievances but inspired by transnational jihadist ideas from transforming into large-scale armies that terrorize and threaten to undo entire nations.

1. John Campbell, “Nigeria Security Tracker,” Africa Program and Nigeria on the Brink, June 1, 2019, https://www.cfr.org/nigeria/nigeria-security-tracker/p29483 (accessed August 28, 2019). ↝

2. Claire Felter, “Nigeria’s Battle with Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 8, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/nigerias-battle-boko-haram (accessed August 29, 2019). ↝

3. Institute for Economics and Peace, “Global Terrorism Index 2015,” Institute for Economics and Peace, 2015, http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2015-Global-Terrorism-Index-Report.pdf (accessed June 29, 2019). ↝

4. Audu Bulama Bukarti, “Nigeria’s Child Veterans Are Still Living a Nightmare,” Foreign Policy , August 25, 2019, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/08/15/children-boko-haram-nigeria-borno-cjtf/ (accessed 09/17/2019). ↝

5. Nathaniel Allen, "How Boko Haram has Regained the Initiative and what Nigeria Should do to Stop It" (War on the Rocks, 24 December 2019) https://warontherocks.com/2019/12/how-boko-haram-has-regained-the-initi… (accessed January 9, 2020) ↝

6. Rachel Bryson & Audu Bulama Bukarti “Boko Haram’s Split on Women in Combat” (Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, September 17, 2018) https://institute.global/insight/co-existence/boko-harams-split-women-combat (accessed December 12, 2019). ↝

7. International Crisis Group, “Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province,” (International Crisis Group, May 16, 2019), p. 2, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/273-facing-the-challenge.pdf&gt ; (accessed  August 2, 2019). ↝

8. Ahmad Salkida and Yusuf Anka "Insecurity: Why peace efforts in Northwest Nigeria are not sustainable,” International Center for Investigative Reporting, Oct 16. 2019, https://www.icirnigeria.org/insecurity-why-peace-efforts-in-northwest-nigeria-is-not-sustainable/ (accessed 12/17/2019). ↝

9. See Adam Higazi et al (2018), “A Response to Jacob Zenn on Boko Haram and al-Qa‘ida,” Perspective on Terrorism , Volume 12, Issue 2. ↝

10. See Jacob Zenn (2014), “Nigerian al-Qaedaism,”(Washington DC: Hudson Institute) available on https://www.hudson.org/research/10172-nigerian-al-qaedaism - accessed 09/014/2019; Jacob Zenn (2014), “Exposing and Defeating Boko Haram: Why the West must unite to help Nigeria defeat terrorism,” the BOW Group. https://www.bowgroup.org/sites/bowgroup.uat.pleasetest.co.uk/files/Jaco… accessed on 12/08/2019; Jacob Zenn (2017); “Demystifying al-Qaida in Nigeria: Cases from Boko Haram’s Founding, Launch of Jihad and Suicide Bombings,” Perspective on Terrorism, Vol. 11, Issue 6. ↝

11. See Adam Higazi et al, “A Response to Jacob Zenn on Boko Haram and al-Qa‘ida” and Jacob Zenn Responds to his Critiques… ↝

12. See for instance Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement (Princeton University Press 2018), pp. 92-97; John Azumah, “Boko Haram in Retrospect” (2015) Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations , 26:1, 33, 43; Virginia Comolli, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency (C. Hurst & Co. [Publishers] Ltd 2017), pp. 46-49; Mike Smith; Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War (London: I. B. Tauris & Co 2015), 77-8;  Andrew Walker. Eat the Heart of the Infidel: The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram (London: C. Hurst (Publishers 2016) Ltd.) 151-153. ↝

David Cook, an associate professor of religion at Rice University, was one of the first scholars to write on the Kanamma episode. He states that the commune, located about a mile from Kanamma, consisted of about sixty persons. On December 29, 2003, in their effort to obtain weapons, they raided government installations, including police stations, and killed 30 people in the process. David Cook, “Boko Haram: A Prognosis,” The James Baker III Institute of Public Policy, December 16, 2011, p. 10, https://www.bakerinstitute.org/media/files/Research/535dcd14/REL-pub-CookBokoHaram-121611.pdf (accessed 09/14/2019).

This culminated in a Nigerian army crackdown on their camp which ended up killing or capturing all but seven of them, Ibid , p. 9.

Anna Borzello, a BBC journalist who visited Kanamma and interviewed locals, confirms Cook’s details but reports that only one person, a police officer, was killed by the commune. In the same vein, Kyari Mohammed echoes Cook but writes that the group also wreaked havoc in five different local government areas between December 21, 2003 and January 1, 2004.  He does not provide casualty figures, nor does he cite the population of the commune, simply saying it was “a tiny group of people.” See Kyari Muhammad, “The Message and Methods of Boko Haram,” in Montclos Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos (ed.), Boko Haram: Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria (African Studies Centre 2014) 9, p. 10.

Andrew Walker, the author of a book about Boko Haram titled Eat the Heart of the Infidel , mentions the group’s attacks on police stations and government buildings, but reports that the group overpowered a squad of police officers and took their weapons after a dispute over fishing rights. See Andrew Walker, “What Is Boko Haram?”  (United States Institute for Peace, June 2010), p. 3, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/SR308.pdf (accessed 9/15/2019). He further states that the group consisted of about two hundred members, seventy of whom were killed at Kanamma.

Statements by Manuel Reinert, a researcher at the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA-Nigeria) and Lou Garçon, an anthropologist, fall somewhere between Cook and Walker. Like Walker, they assert that the population of the camp was 200 and that conflict originally erupted over fishing rights. But, like Cook, they state that the group attacked police stations and government buildings. Furthermore, they put the number of the militants killed in the uprising at “several,” thereby contradicting both Cook and Walker.

Rafael Serrano, a research analyst at University of South Florida, and Zacharias Pieri, a political sociologist, agree with Walker on seventy casualties from the militants’ side, but contradict him on the commune’s total population. They assert that the figure, “amounted to the majority of the sect members in Kanama,” thus implying a total population under a hundred and forty.

Confusing matters still further, Cook estimated the total population of the Kanamma Group—a name which he uses synonymously with Boko Haram – at “around 800-1000 members,” although he has suggested elsewhere that number should be taken seriously. [Cook, “Boko Haram: A Prognosis,” p. 10].

Virginia Comolli states that there were members of the commune from Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Virginia Comolli (2015). Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency (UK: C. Hurst & Co., Ltd), p. 47.

            She cites Walker for this assertion, but Walker did not make such a claim in the article cited by Comolli, and no other account even remotely supports her claim. [She cited Andrew Walker, “What Is Boko Haram?” (United States Institute for Peace, June 2010), https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/SR308.pdf .].

In several accounts of Boko Haram’s early days, questions of leadership are also contradictory. Various authors have mentioned at least three different people as the leader of the commune. Cook states that the commune was led by Muhammad Yusuf, who would become Boko Haram’s founder and first leader. Even though Kyari Mohammed quotes Cook repeatedly, he also contradicts him by reporting that Yusuf “was neither an active physical participant nor a prominent figure” and that it was one Muhammad Ali who led the commune [ Ibid , p. 12].

John Azumah, an ordained Ghanaian minister and scholar of Christianity and Islam, confirms Ali as the leader and asserts he was killed in Kanamma. [Azumah, “Boko Haram in Retrospect” p. 40] Jacob Zenn agrees that Ali died in Kanamma but states that he was considered a “co-leader” along with Yusuf.  International Crisis Group (ICG) claims Ali was a key player in the commune, but that it was led by Shekau (JAS’s current leader). [Jacob Zenn (2019), “Where will Boko Haram go next after ten years of moving around?”, African Arguments, July 23, 2019, https://africanarguments.org/2019/07/23/where-will-boko-haram-go-next-after-ten-years-of-moving-around/ (accessed on 09/13/2019].

            ICG alleges that Shekau and Aminu Tashen-Ilimi broke from Yusuf, whom they accused of “being too soft,” to establish the commune. [International Crisis Group, “Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province,” p. 9].

Yusuf’s sons, meanwhile, do not mention Shekau as leader of the commune. See Aymann Jawad Al-Tamimi, “Cutting out the tumour from the Khawarij of Shekau by the allegiance pledge of the people of nobility by the two brothers, the sons of Sheikh Abu Yusuf al-Barnawi, may God protect them,” (Trans., Aymann Jawad Al-Tamimi, August 5, 2018), http://www.aymennjawad.org/21467/the-islamic-state-west-africa-province… (accessed May 2, 2019).

Mohammed, Adagba Okpaga t al , (2012), “Activities of Boko Haram and insecurity question in Nigeria,” Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review (OMAN Chapter) 1: 77-99. DOI: 10.12816/0002163; Lecturers at University of Benin, Nigeria and Morten Bøås, see Morten Bøås (2012) “Violent Islamic uprising in Northern Nigeria: From the ‘Taleban’ to Boko Haram II.”; NOREF Norwegian Peacebuilding Research Centre. internalpdf://boas.Boko.Haram16760 50945/boas.Boko.Haram.pdf, Research Director at Institute for Applied International Studies, suggests that Yusuf operated in Maiduguri, not Kanamma, during the period in question and was thus not a participant in Kanamma.

As with the other issues highlighted above, existing literature presents a confusing picture of the origins and links of the Kanamma Commune. Three different groups are particularly mentioned: the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the group that would become Boko Haram.

Bøås presented the Kanamma commune, which he terms the “Taleban groups ( sic ),” as a different group from Boko Haram, while Mohammed notes that the two shared the same ideology and that the remainder of the Kanamma militants joined Boko Haram. Abdulbasit Kassim, a PhD candidate at Rice University on intellectual history of Islam in Africa, on his part, suggests that the Kanamma militants splintered from the group that would become Boko Haram. [Abdulbasit Kassim, (2018) “Boko Haram’s Internal Civil War: Stealth Takfir and Jihad as Recipes for Schism,”in Jacob Zenn (ed.) Boko Haram Beyond the Headlines: Analyses of Africa’s Enduring Insurgency, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point , https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2018/05/Boko-Haram-Beyond-the-Headline… accessed on 12/29/2018, 9- 32, p.11, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2018/05/Boko-Haram-Beyond-the-Headlines.pdf (accessed 09/15/2019)].

All these three prepositions continue to appear in Boko Haram literature. We shall look closely at two of them now.

This conjecture about the Kanamma commune’s link to al-Qaeda began in 2015 (thirteen years after the fact) by Andrea Brigaglia, who challenged earlier suggestions that the commune was “extremely puritanical, but substantially pacific community.” [ Ibid , 194].

He speculated that it was an al-Qaeda training camp with “international connections” established as an “appendix” of mainstream Salafis (read, Ahl as-Sunnah ) to train fighters for deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. Relying on reports that clashes between the commune and Nigerian troops lasted several days, he argued that members were both trained to use firearms and were armed. Otherwise, they would not have been able to engage security forces for days.

This claim contradicts both the Yobe State Government’s conclusion that “the site was not a training camp but a separatist commune,” and the U.S. Embassy’s determination that it was not tied to al-Qaeda. [Thurston, “ Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement, ” p. 93; “Nigerian Taliban most likely not tied to Taliban nor al-Qaeda,” WikiLeaks, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/04ABUJA183_a.html accessed 23/09/2019 ; Walker, “Eat the Heart of the Infidel,” p. 151.] 

Even though Brigaglia was compelled by watertight primary evidence to recant the foundation of his hypothesis in a recent article, Andrea Brigaglia (2018), Slicing Off the Tumour: The History of Global Jihad in Nigeria, as Narrated by the Islamic State, Politics and Religion Journal , (S.l.), v. 12, n. 2, p. 19-224, Nov. 2018. ISSN 1820-659X, 207, https://www.politicsandreligionjournal.com/index.php/prj/article/view/3… , 207, (accessed 01/01/2019), he appeared adamant to both have his cake and eat it. He retorts “although the embryonic Jihadi community led by Ali had not been able to establish a training camp at Kanamma as I had previously hypothesised, this was obviously their intention, which was averted thanks to the collaboration of the top leadership of the Salafi community with the security.” [ Ibid .].

Brigaglia further claimed that the history of Boko Haram—written by Yusuf’s sons and published by ISIS—supports his claim that the Kanamma commune was “loosely or organically” linked to al-Qaeda, even though nothing in the text even remotely suggests that. In fact, the authors dismissed allegations that Boko Haram was linked to al-Qaeda in its early period as “spurious distorted accusations with no truth to them.”

In yet another article, Brigaglia triples down on this theory even as he backtracks from another premise upon which it was built. He submitted that Ali had “allegedly received a promise of funding from Osama Bin Laden….” However, the money never arrived and “so training in the camp never started.” [Andrea Brigaglia, “The ‘Popular Discourses of Salafi Counter-Radicalism in Nigeria’ Revisited: A Response to Abdullahi Lamido’s Review of Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram,” Center for Contemporary Islam, The CCI Occasional Papers, No. 2, March 2019, p. 12, http://www.cci.uct.ac.za/sites/default/files/image_tool/images/146/Debating%20Boko%20Haram.pdf (accessed 15/09/2019)].

Yet he also claimed, rather puzzlingly, that his hypothesis that the Kanamma commune was meant to be a training camp for al-Qaeda, “stands stronger” in 2019 than when he formulated it in 2015. [ Ibid.]

Despite Brigaglia’s twists and turns on this issue, he has been frequently cited as an authority on the Kanamma episode. Kassim praised Brigalia’s first article linking the commune to al-Qaeda as, “The best treatment of the Kanamma episode” and his argument “brilliant.” See Kassim, “Boko Haram’s Internal Civil War: Stealth Takfir and Jihad as Recipes for Schism,” footnote 75, p. 10.

Zenn also adopted and advanced Brigaglia’s hypothesis. In his bid to demonstrate “that al-Qaida had a significant impact in Boko Haram’s founding in 2002.” See Jacob Zenn (2017), Demystifying al-Qaida in Nigeria: Cases from Boko Haram’s Founding, Launch of Jihad and Suicide Bombings, Perspective on Terrorism, Vol. 11, Issue 6, http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/666/1326 (accessed 09/15/2019).

Zenn copiously cited Brigaglia with approval and concluded that “other documentary sources” are “increasingly corroborating Brigaglia’s hypothesis,” [ Ibid , 177.] which Brigaglia himself has almost completely recanted. Zenn tweaked, perhaps inadvertently, Brigaglia’s “several days” to “several weeks” as the duration it took Nigerian troops to dismantle the camp, even as he paraphrased him. See five academics who condemned his theory on al-Qa’ida’s link with Boko Haram and his treatment of sources in Jacob Zenn, “A Primer on Boko Haram Sources and Three Heuristics on al Qaida and Boko Haram in Response to Adam Higazi, Brandon Kendhammer, Kyari Mohammed, Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, and Alex Thurston,” Perspective on Terrorism, Vol. 12, Issue 3, https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/customsites/perspectives-on-terrorism/2018/issue-3/06---special-correspondence-a-primer-on-boko-haram-sources-and-three-heuristics-on-al-qaida-and-boko-haram-in-response-to-.pdf (accessed 08/15/2019).

14. Anna Borzello, “Tracking down Nigeria's 'Taleban' sect,” BBC News, 14 January 20104, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3393963.stm (accessed 09/14/2019); “Nigeria arrests 'Taliban-style' rebels,” Aljazeera, January 6, 2004, https://www.aljazeera.com/archive/2004/01/2008410135853209750.html (accessed 09/15/2019).  ↝

15. “Leader of 'Nigerian Taliban' Killed In Police Custody,” Radio Free Europe, July 31, 2009, https://www.rferl.org/a/Leader_of_Nigerian_Taliban_Killed_In_Police_Custody/1789800.html (accessed 09/15/2019); Robin Dixon, “A Nigeria ‘Taliban’ leader tells of a desire to fight the U.S.,” Los Angeles Times , April 1, 2010, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-apr-01-la-fg-nigeria-taliban1-2010apr01-story.html (accessed 15/09/2019); “White House condemns ‘Nigerian Taliban’ bombings,” CBS News , December 26, 2011, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/white-house-condemns-nigerian-taliban-bombings/ (accessed 09/15/2019). ↝

16. Cook, “Boko Haram: A Prognosis,” p.9. It should be noted that Cook cited one Muhammad Iysa of Lagos State university for the sentence in which he questioned the possibility of some members being with the Afghan Taliban. This could have been a mistake on his part. But even if we assume Cook wanted to cite Iysa for the claim itself, he does not clarify the position of his source, his source’s relationship with Boko Haram or where he claimed to have got that information from and reduces the weight of his informant’s allegation to mere speculation.  ↝

17. Freedom Onuoha, “Boko Haram and the Evolving Salafi Jihadist Threat in Nigeria,” in Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos (2014) (ed.). Boko Haram: Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria (Nigeria: African Studies Centre), pp. 15-191, p. 168. ↝

18. Andrea Brigaglia (2015). The Volatility of Salafi Political Theology, the War on Terror and the Genesis of Boko Haram, Diritto e Questioni Pubbliche, 15(2), pp. 174-201. ↝

19. See for example Jacob Zenn (2017), Demystifying al-Qaida in Nigeria: Cases from Boko Haram’s Founding, Launch of Jihad and Suicide Bombings, Perspective on Terrorism, Vol. 11, Issue 6, http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/666/1326 (accessed 09/15/2019). ↝

20. Interviewees in Kanamma include Alhaji Umar Goni (Traditional ruler and Chief Imam) Bakurna Barde (a farmer), Bintumi Kanamma (civil servant). Focused group discussion was conducted with Alhaji Goni Ibrahim (civil servant), Goni Kulu (farmer), Alhaji Mayami (trader) Amadu Tanja (farmer) and Kyari Huwu (trader). Interview conducted February 3, 2019. ↝

21. Alhaji Umar Goni, February 3, 2019. ↝

22. Brigaglia, “The Volatility of Salafi Political Theology, the War on Terror and the Genesis of Boko Haram,” p. 198. All participants of the focussed group discussion agree that in the commune was dismantled in a few hours. ↝

23. Brigaglia, “The Volatility of Salafi Political Theology, the War on Terror and the Genesis of Boko Haram,” p. 198. ↝

24. Kassim mentions Zaji Biriri, one of the villages close to Tarmowa but says same is in Tarmuwa Local Government Area. See Kassim, “Boko Haram’s Internal Civil War: Stealth Takfir and Jihad as Recipes for Schism,” p. 10. It appears that Kassim or his source conflated Tarmowa village which was in Bukarti Development Area (now Yunusari Local Government Area) with Tarmuwa Local Government.  ↝

25. Audio explanation of Hadhihi, ‘AqeedatunawaManhajDa’watina,(Maktabah al-Ghuraba)2ndEdn., 1430 AH) entitled “LittafinHaazihiAqeedatuna available on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWfWa2rfsKw accessed on 06/2/2019. ↝

26. The second point has been brilliantly and extensively discussed by Kassim. See Kassim, “Boko Haram’s Internal Civil War: Stealth Takfir and Jihad as Recipes for Schism”, pp.9-13. ↝

27. Interview with Modu Lawan, village head of Zaji-Biriri, about 2 miles from the site, who was member of the local committee that paid two visits to the site to persuade members to leave the site. ↝

28. Separate interviews with Kachallah Ngubdo and Lawan Amadu Zai, the traditional ruler of Zai village, Bukarti, February 3, 2019.  ↝

29. Interview with Lawan Amadu. ↝

30. Interview with Kachallah Ngubdo, Bukarti, 02/3/2019. ↝

31. See International Crisis Group, “Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province;” Andrew Walker, Eat the Heart of the Infidel: The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram (London: C. Hurst Ltd.) 2016; Virginia Comolli, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency (UK: C. Hurst & Co. Ltd) 2015.

32. Interview with Kachallah Ngubdo, Bukarti, 02/03/2019 ↝

33. Telephonic interview with the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Alhaji Ibrahim Toshiya, 10/2/2019. ↝

34. Al-Tamimi, “Cutting out the tumour from the Khawarij of Shekau…” ↝

35. Correspondences between Boko Haram and AQIM released by Nigeria security services show that Boko Haram has received at least two hundred thousand euros from AQIM. See David Cook (trans), “Documents from Advice and Shari’i Instruction by Shaykh Abu al-Hassan Rashid al-Bulaydi to the Fighters in Nigeria,” in Abdulbasit Kassim & Michael Nwankpa (ed.), The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State, (C. Hurst & Co. Publishers Ltd.) 2018, pp. 209-213. ↝

36. Andrea Brigaglia, “The Volatility of Salafi Political Theology, the War on Terror and the Genesis of Boko Haram,” p. 198. ↝

37. Interview with Abu Harun, Kano, 02/10/2019. ↝

38. International Crisis Group, “Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province,” p. 9-23. ↝

39. See, for instance Zenn, “Where will Boko Haram go next after ten years of moving around?” Ibid. ↝

40. “Nigeria arrests 'Taliban-style' rebels,” Aljazeera, January 6, 2004, https://www.aljazeera.com/archive/2004/01/2008410135853209750.html (accessed 09/15/2019). ↝

41. For explanation on Darul Islam, see Abdul Raufu Mustapha and Mukhtar U. Bunza “Contemporary Islamic Sects & Groups in Northern Nigeria,” in Abdul Raufu Mustapha (ed.) Sects & Social Disorder: Muslim Identities & Conflict in Northern Nigeria ” (Rochester, NY, James Currey) 2014, pp. 54-97, p. 77. ↝

42. Abdulbasit Kassim, “History of the Muslims,” in Abdulbasit Kassim & Michael Nwankpa (2018) (ed.). The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State: (C. Hurst & Co. Publishers Ltd. pp. 85-102,) p. 85.  ↝

43. Borzello, “Tracking down Nigeria's 'Taleban' sect.” ↝

Aisha Wakil, AKA ‘Mama Boko Haram’ in Maiduguri, Nigeria in April 2019.

'Mama Boko Haram': one woman's extraordinary mission to rescue 'her boys' from terrorism

Aisha Wakil knew many of Boko Haram’s fighters as children. Now she uses those ties to broker peace deals, mediate hostage negotiations and convince militants to put down their weapons – but as the violence escalates, her task is becoming impossible

I t was another scorching afternoon in Maiduguri. In the west of the city, in Nigeria’s north-east, 51-year-old Aisha Wakil sat in her office talking to a jihadi fighter named Usman. Wakil was draped head-to-toe in fine sequinned chiffon; a niqab covered most of her face, leaving visible only her dark eyes. Ka’aji , a sweet, woody incense that Wakil kept burning in a corner, perfumed the room.

Wakil and Usman kept their voices down. They were hashing out a secret plan to free a 16-year-old girl who was being held hostage by Boko Haram . It was May 2019, 10 years after the Islamist group had begun terrorising Nigeria as part of a jihad it was waging against the government. The violence, which had spilled into neighbouring countries, had left more than 30,000 people dead.

Over the years, Boko Haram had become notorious for kidnapping women and girls. The most infamous instance came in 2014, when its fighters captured 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in the remote village of Chibok. But there were abductions before Chibok, and dozens after. Some of those captured were forced to become suicide bombers, and Boko Haram has used more than 460 female suicide bombers, more than any other terrorist group in history . The teenage girl who Wakil and Usman were discussing was one of the group’s latest victims. For months, Wakil had been pleading with Boko Haram fighters to free her.

With soldiers and local vigilantes trying to hunt them down, the group’s members had largely fled Maiduguri, the largest city in Borno state, and the other cities in the region. They set up camps tucked away in the arid bush land stretching across northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Some fighters went to live in hideouts in the vast former game reserve of Sambisa forest and on the remote islands dotting Lake Chad, where they kept thousands of hostages – women, girls, men and child soldiers forced to join their ranks.

After annihilating villages, the fighters would slip back to their camps. Nigerian soldiers scrambled after them, but the army’s heavy vehicles would get stuck in the spiky shrubs and the soft, sandy ground of the Sambisa. They couldn’t venture far into Lake Chad’s swampy coast, especially during the rainy season. The insurgents were swift, cruising over the land in convoys of motorbikes, and then disappearing like smoke.

Wakil was one of the few people outside Boko Haram who could reach its members. She was in touch with senior fighters and, in her office that day, she was using that access to negotiate freedom for the hostage. The girl was Christian, and in interviews with the local media, her parents had been asking the Nigerian government to rescue her. Wakil wanted her out safely. She believed Usman was the right person to get the job done. He was, after all, a Boko Haram militant – a mid-ranking one, who travelled between the bush and the city for special assignments.

To get to Wakil’s office, Usman had to pass through the city without attracting attention. The streets were crawling with security personnel – soldiers, police officers, intelligence agents, volunteers from the Civilian Joint Task Force , a local paramilitary vigilante group. At the time, Boko Haram attacks were on the rise again and locals moved about with caution. So did Usman. With his frayed clothes, scratched-up hands and lean frame, he fit the physical profile of a Boko Haram fighter perfectly.

Usman wanted to do some good. He had decided to cooperate with Wakil, relaying her messages to the mujahideen back in the camp. Their meeting ended on an optimistic note. It seemed possible that the hostage might be freed.

M aiduguri is situated within what was the longest-standing kingdom in African history, a powerful pre-colonial Islamic state known as the Kanem-Bornu empire. Established by the ancestors of the modern-day Kanuri people, the empire lasted from the eighth to the 19th century. At one point, the empire’s territory stretched east from modern-day Nigeria through Chad, to Sudan and north to Libya. The empire’s kings – first known as mai, then later as shehu , a derivative of the Arabic title sheikh – were among the first monarchs to practice Islam in sub-Saharan Africa .

For a long time, Maiduguri was regarded as the “home of peace”. Life there revolved around Islamic traditions: the call to prayer echoed from mosques. On Fridays, the streets were packed with people making their way to jum’ah prayer; thousands of boys sat under trees, reciting verses from the Qur’an under their teachers’ gaze.

From the Sahara Desert, cascades of sand blow into the city, covering the terrain in fine layers of dust. At midday, Maiduguri is blindingly hot. It has a particular kind of dry heat that prickles the skin. At night, the heat eases off a bit, giving way to breezes rising over the murky Ngadda River, rustling past neem trees scattered across the land.

Wakil moved to the city in 1989, to enrol at the University of Maiduguri. Unlike many of her fellow students, she wasn’t a member of the indigenous Kanuri people – she was Igbo, an ethnic group whose ancestral land lies in the south-east of Nigeria. It was there that Wakil was born, in 1968, and where she grew up, as the country was trying to reconcile and rebuild in the aftermath of the civil war, which ended in 1970.

Wakil came from an Igbo family of devout Roman Catholics and she, too, had been deeply devoted to the faith. It led her to God, she said, and throughout her youth she took to reading her Bible and praying for hours on end. It was not until the early 90s that she converted to Islam, after meeting the man she would marry, Alkali Gana Wakil. He was Kanuri and Muslim. “According to the tradition, the woman should follow the man’s religion. I did it to maintain that culture, for peace to reign in my matrimonial home,” Wakil told me.

Maiduguri in northern Nigeria.

Her relatives back home in the south were deeply disappointed with her conversion, and the fact that she, a “southerner”, had gone off and married “a northerner”. She changed her name to one of the most revered in Islam, Aisha – after the favourite wife of Muhammad and “mother of the believers”. (Today, Wakil refuses to reveal her original Igbo and Christian names.) She and her husband moved into a quaint bungalow close to the most sacred place in Maiduguri – the Shehu’s palace and adjacent mosque complex.

The first time I met Wakil, in 2018, she grinned and embraced me tenderly when I told her that I was also Igbo. “It’s like being with my sister,” she said, giggling, and lifted her niqab to let me see her face. Wakil had done her best to adopt Kanuri culture. She burned ka’aji. She took on local beauty customs, keeping her hands and fingers covered in lalle, a type of henna plant dye. She followed the local expectations of a Muslim wife, too, covering her head in a hijab whenever she stepped out of her home. When her husband started telling her that he did not like the way men were admiring her face, she began wearing the niqab to conceal it.

Shortly after Wakil moved to her house in Maiduguri, she decided to start leaving her front door open. She was still fairly new to the city and wanted to be welcoming. Soon, poor Kanuri boys, about six or seven years old, began streaming in. Wakil let them play in her compound. Eventually, she would let them garden with her and pick fruit from her trees. Although she already had two of her own children at the time, she started calling these gangly neighbourhood boys her “sons”. In turn, the boys called her “mama”, and to show how much they appreciated her, they started inviting her to attend their circumcision ceremonies, which she ended up sponsoring as a way to help their families, who were struggling financially.

The circumcision of a Muslim boy is a sacred rite in northern Nigeria. In Maiduguri, it usually takes place when boys are about seven. Wakil was there at her newfound sons’ circumcisions, holding their hands as they flinched under the blade. When the old men finished cutting, Wakil would gently wash the boy’s penis, submerging it in ka’aji to disinfect it and keep evil spirits away. At the end, she had a chicken killed to celebrate each boy’s rite of passage.

But Wakil was still getting used to the customs of north-eastern Nigeria. Some people there saw her as an outsider, a southerner. At times she felt like one, too. And as she continued to adjust to a culture that was so different from the one she grew up in, it was her sons who kept her company. They came to adore the Igbo dishes she cooked them, such as isi ewu , spiced goat’s head steeped in red palm oil. Back in those days, Maiduguri still felt like the city of peace.

A round the turn of the century, life in Maiduguri started to change. After 1999, when military rule ended and civilian rule was restored to Nigeria, sectarian tensions increased. Between 1999 and 2001, to ensure that the new secular, democratic government in Abuja would not encroach on Islamic principles, 12 northern states adopted full sharia law. Christians living in the north said they felt threatened by sharia, despite officials’ promises that it would not apply to them.

Religious tensions were particularly raw in the wide swathe of fertile land south of Borno state, known in Nigeria as the Middle Belt. In 2001, in one Middle Belt city, Jos, about 1,000 people were killed in violence between Christians and Muslims. In Maiduguri, that same year, a total lunar eclipse sparked a riot , after local Muslim men took the eclipse as a sign that the city was overrun with immorality. News agencies reported that the men set ablaze at least 40 hotels, brothels and bars. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, and Osama bin Laden’s exhortations to Muslims in Africa to rise up against unbelievers, only added to these existing conflicts.

Since the 90s, a man called Mohammed Yusuf had been travelling around Nigeria’s north-east, preaching against western influences. Yusuf subscribed to a radical, militant strand of the conservative Sunni branch of Islam known as Salafism. In his sermons, he attacked boko (meaning secular education) and deemed it haram (sinful). By 2001, Yusuf had a devoted group of followers, known as Yusufiyya, and people started referring to his ideology as Boko Haram.

Yusuf tapped into the growing anger at rising inequality in Borno state, where most villages lacked power and clean running water, and the majority of people lived on less than $1.25 a day. He railed against government corruption, as well as the growing influence of western Judeo-Christian culture in the north. He condemned the idolisation of international football stars, the prioritising of Nigeria’s secular constitution over Islam and the government’s push to make primary education compulsory for children.

In 2005, Yusuf set up the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque and compound, near Maiduguri’s train station. A few hundred of his followers moved there, settling around the train tracks. Yusuf’s rhetoric got more extreme as he agitated for the Borno state governor to enforce sharia law, beyond its formal adoption in 2000. He railed against the US invasion of Iraq, the torture of Muslim detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. He told his followers that Nigeria was an infidel state, and it was time to prepare for jihad against the government. Meanwhile, violence between Christians and Muslims across Nigeria continued to escalate. The worldwide protests that followed a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad in 2005 led to more deaths in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. Many protests turned violent, which began a vicious cycle of attacks and counterattacks between Christians and Muslims, leaving dozens dead.

Wakil knew Yusuf, having befriended his wife and father-in-law around the time he began amassing a following. She saw him as another son. Maiduguri residents who knew Yusuf told me that he respected Wakil. She would cook for him in his father-in-law’s home, and urge him not to fight the government.

Around this time, she noticed her other sons were spending more time at Yusuf’s mosque. “They just began disappearing,” she told me. She remembers one of the boys who went away for three months. When he returned to town, he was no longer the jovial teenager that he used to be. He came back with a quiet, brooding disposition. When she asked where he had been, he told her that he had gone somewhere to learn how to kill people.

“I thought it was a joke!” Wakil told me. “Kill people?”

At first, she had no idea that jihad training camps were springing up in Nigeria, let alone that one of her sons had participated, upon Yusuf’s instruction. She confronted Yusuf about it. “He didn’t deny it,” Wakil said. “He said they were preparing for jihad.” Later, she learned about a camp in the Middle Belt and her sons started telling her to call them by new names, their noms de guerre .

Yusuf and his followers were becoming increasingly combative, repeatedly fighting with security agents. Yusuf’s popularity swelled after each arrest. The final trigger was a now-infamous incident that took place in June 2009. One day when Yusuf was away, his followers were riding in a convoy of motorbikes on their way to a funeral when a government patrol force confronted them to ask why they weren’t wearing helmets. The Yusufiyya argued with the patrol force, and soon shots rang out. It’s not clear who shot first, but several officers ended up wounded, and some of Yusuf’s devotees died. The government never investigated what happened.

Yusuf was livid, and responded with a series of diatribes directly threatening the Nigerian government and ordering Muslims to acquire weapons. Those messages went beyond Maiduguri, recorded on DVDs and tapes that circulated across the region.

Wakil realised that her sons and Yusuf were headed for trouble. She spoke to his father-in-law about her concerns, and he, too, was worried. On 21 July 2009, police raided the home of a sect member and seized bomb-making materials. The Yusufiyya burned down a police station on 26 July in Bauchi state, west of Borno, where Yusuf had a farm. Police raided the farm, killing dozens of militants. Later that day, jihadists also attacked a police station in Maiduguri and for the next four days, they terrorised the city, killing police and soldiers, and slitting the throats of civilians caught in the middle. In response to the killing spree, Nigerian troops shot more than 100 of Yusuf’s followers. Soldiers captured Yusuf and handed him over to the police, who executed him. Wakil cannot forget the night of 30 July 2009, when she saw Yusuf’s bloodied corpse on the local evening news TV broadcast.

Mohammed Yusuf, then leader of Boko Haram, after his capture by Nigerian troops in 2009.

The government thought Yusuf’s death was the end of Boko Haram. But it only made things worse. After going into hiding, the group re-emerged in 2010 with Yusuf’s brutal deputy, Abubakar Shekau, as Boko Haram’s new leader. From then on, Boko Haram began targeting schools and kidnapping women. The group’s goal was to overthrow Nigeria’s government and replace it with an Islamic state.

Many of Wakil’s sons were now under Shekau’s command. But as appalled as she was by the destructive path her sons had chosen, Wakil felt she couldn’t abandon them, or hand them over to the government. Throughout the nearly two years I spent following her, I never heard Wakil describe any of them as “terrorists”. These were men she had taken care of as they grew up. Now, she decided to pray for them to repent. And she kept looking after them: she gave them clothes, money and phones, believing they could be reformed with love. She took care of the wives and children they left behind in the cities. When state security agents came after Wakil’s sons, she hid them inside her home: they slept in the parlour, while she and her daughter, Ummi, slept in the next room.

But she feared how far her sons would go. Maiduguri became an urban war zone. At night, the sound of gunfire filled the air. During the day, residents were afraid to gather for weddings and parties. Speaking out against the militants could get you killed, so residents kept usually silent.

But Wakil was an exception. Her associations with Boko Haram were no secret. Producers at a local TV news station invited her to the studio to speak about the rising insecurity. During that broadcast, Wakil said the fighters should stop, that she was pleading to them as a mother to her sons.

After that, residents and journalists started calling her “Mama Boko Haram”. She was the only woman who would publicly declare that she spoke regularly to the militants.

T he University of Maiduguri is the most prestigious university in Nigeria’s north-east. With its modern, expansive campus, more than 20,000 students and international staff, it is the pride of the city. And as a secular, coeducational institution, it was also an obvious target for Boko Haram.

In 2012, the group carried out a series of high-profile attacks. In early January, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president at the time, admitted that Boko Haram members had infiltrated his government and the security services. Later that month, in Kano, Nigeria’s second-biggest city, Boko Haram carried out a series of coordinated shootings and bombings that left more than 178 dead. Back in Maiduguri, not even the beloved Shehu of Borno – who had publicly denounced Boko Haram as un-Islamic – was safe. He barely escaped a suicide bombing in the central mosque where people were worshiping.

That same year, Wakil got a call from one of her sons warning her not to let her daughter Ummi, who was a student at the university, go in that day. The campus was about to be attacked. Wakil spoke as gently as she could. Addressing him as “my son”, she did her best to coax him into abandoning the plan. She told him that killing innocent people was not God’s will. He said there was no way to stop the mission, because everything was already in place, but that she should protect her daughter.

When he hung up, Wakil turned to Ummi and told her to rush to school. “She was telling me, go to school quickly,” Ummi later told me. “I didn’t know why she was hurrying me.” Wakil knew that her sons wouldn’t want to bomb the university with her daughter inside. Ummi was like a sister to them: she, too, had taken care of them. So Wakil used her like a human shield.

A wanted poster for Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in Maduguri in 2013.

When the insurgents spotted Ummi, the man called Wakil again. Why had Mama let her daughter go to campus, he asked her. After some back and forth, he said that, on Mama’s request, they were going to call off the attack.

Very few people outside Boko Haram could claim that kind of influence over its members – and at first, the government considered Wakil’s relationship with them an asset. They believed she could help them open talks with the group.

As the violence spiralled, in 2013 Wakil was invited to join a committee that President Jonathan had set up to open talks with the insurgents and broach the option of granting them amnesty. Wakil joined, but the talks didn’t go anywhere. Boko Haram didn’t trust the politicians, and as details of the negotiations kept being leaked to the media, the insurgents became less and less inclined to cooperate.

But since Shekau had become Boko Haram’s leader, Wakil had been carrying out her own negotiations, talking to members by phone or through her informants, or meeting them in person in her home. She beseeched them to leave the group, and dozens of them did. She convinced some of them to abandon their arms, directing them to a large rubbish dump in Maiduguri where they could drop the weapon and walk away. A couple of times, militants helped her to disassemble explosives. She buried the pieces in her garden. As we walked around it together, she pointed out the spot where she had destroyed a bomb; if I looked hard enough, she said, I might still be able to see pieces of it.

She helped former members establish a new life in other parts of the country. One day, she gave money to some 30 ex-militants. With the money, one ended up going to the commercial capital of Lagos to work in the textile sector, she said. Another made his way to the south-east to become a butcher. According to Wakil, many of these sons were killed by vigilantes or arrested once word spread about who they were.

Not everyone understood what Wakil was doing. And it wasn’t long before rumours started going around. People said she was suspiciously close to the insurgents. They wondered why her home had been spared, while just about every other area in Maiduguri had been touched by gunfire or a bomb.

It was true, Wakil said, that they had agreed never to attack there. But that was because her home was considered a sanctuary by all sides. When bullets were fired in the city, it was where civilians went to seek refuge. Insurgents ran there when they were being pursued by state security and soldiers; security officials ran there when they were fleeing Boko Haram.

At these moments, government security agents and Boko Haram fighters sometimes came face to face in Wakil’s home, exactly as she wanted. She would bring over bowls of isi ewu and encourage the men to eat together in peace. “They will eat and they will be very happy,” she told me with a laugh. They would be wary at first, but over food they slowly warmed up enough to have frank conversations.

Aisha Wakil in her office in Maiduguri in April 2019.

It was Wakil’s own version of peacebuilding. But unsurprisingly, some people felt uncomfortable about her unorthodox methods. On 14 August 2016, Wakil was declared wanted by the Nigerian army after the militants released a video of the Chibok girls in captivity. In a statement, the army spokesman, Sani Usman, said that Wakil – and two other people who were wanted, a journalist and a peace activist – was “in possession of information on the conditions and the exact location” of the Chibok girls. “They must, therefore, come forward and tell us,” Usman’s statement went on.

Wakil was distraught. Not only did she not know where the girls were, but for years she had been cooperating with the security services. She had met with the army’s chief of staff and kept the military informed about her activities. Now she was being treated as an accomplice. She posted a response on Facebook: “Yes I have links with Boko Haram and you have always known that,” she wrote. “I have been in the front fighting for peace long before Chibok girls were kidnapped. Nigerian security knows me too well, I am not shady. Why declaring me wanted? … this has put my immediate and extended family under a lot of pressure and I do not deserve this from the government.”

The next day, Wakil turned herself in at the defence headquarters in Abuja, and was interrogated for about eight hours. Security personnel asked her for her life story, how she ended up in Maiduguri, how she came to know the insurgents. Though she was not offered any public apology, the army accepted her story and released her after 48 hours. She returned to Maiduguri and got back to work.

I n early September 2018, two years after her interrogation, Wakil sat in her office with two Boko Haram militants. “You hear me? We will come out,” said Ali Garga, one of the Boko Haram militants, in a gentle voice. “We don’t want any security to disturb us, like police.”

Wakil sat in her chair quietly listening. She seemed worn out. The previous year, she had launched a nonprofit organisation called Complete Care and Aid Foundation. Every few weeks, she and her team would visit refugee camps, where they would distribute clothes and food to women who had lost their husbands to Boko Haram, as well as check on the storehouse where they kept bags of rice and beans.

But the relief work was not her most pressing priority. She urgently wanted to get her boys to stop the violence – and it was taking a physical toll on her. She suffered from acute back pain and crippling headaches. Still, she kept going.

“We drop everything, we drop everything, Mama,” Garga went on, speaking on behalf of some of the men in his unit. He did not specify just how many men wanted to surrender. A man with a hard, skinny body and kind eyes, Garga had been a cattle herder before becoming a mujahid. But he had grown tired of the guerrilla life, eventually coming around to see what Boko Haram was doing as criminal, not Islamic. He missed his cows, his home, his freedom. Later, he turned to me and explained that he was surrendering because Wakil was making it possible for him to do so.

As part of the surrender, Garga said he planned to release some of the Chibok girls who were still captive. Of the original 276, about 112 are still missing. Garga, who claimed he had about 40 of them under his care in a secret location, told Wakil he would sneak out of the camp with the girls and other abductees.

An hour later, Wakil said it was time for her sons to eat. She brought out plastic containers of rice and bottles of water and orange soda. The men sat quietly, scooping up the rice with their hands and then wolfing down their food, until an informant began to praise Wakil. “Mama Aisha, mother of the Boko Haram. May God bless you, Aisha. May God help you,” he said.

Three weeks later, I was in Wakil’s home on a Saturday night when she ran towards me with her phone in her hand, shouting, “Ali is dead! Ali is dead!” A trusted informant, whom I had met several times, had just called her. Wakil was hysterical. She threw her body on the cold tiled floor and cried. I watched her shoulders shake up and down. She told me that when Garga went back into the bushes, some of his fellow mujahideen found out about his plan to escape with the Chibok girls. They killed him. Wakil later found out that he had been tortured.

Ali Garga’s death was a huge setback to Wakil’s peace talks. Things hadn’t been going her way lately. She had sold many of her assets, including jewellery and land, and had no more money to lure the militants away from the group. Her talks kept hitting dead ends. Her informants were getting killed as they travelled between Maiduguri and the bush, where the militants were based. She never knew who did the killing. Periodically, she would get a message that another contact had been killed by a stray bullet, or drowned in a river.

In late 2019, her foundation was hit with a lawsuit over allegations of fraud. She was detained shortly afterwards. According to the government’s anti-corruption agency, contractors who had supplied at least 111.6m naira (£229,000) worth of goods such as cars, maize and medical supplies to the foundation had not been paid and some of the awarded contracts were bogus.

In January, I travelled to Maiduguri to see if I could visit Wakil in the prison where she and the foundation’s programme manager and country director were being held. I learned that the prison administrators had allowed her to go to the hospital to get treatment for her high blood pressure. At the hospital, Wakil told me she was innocent, blaming everything on the programme manager, who had handled the contracts. (Like Wakil, the programme manager and country director have also pleaded not guilty. The trial has been postponed until further notice, and all three suspects remain in custody.)

Meanwhile, Wakil told me, the number of people joining Boko Haram was growing, despite the Nigerian military’s claims to the contrary. They were getting their hands on more sophisticated weapons: Russian anti-aircraft missiles and mortars that had been circulating in north Africa since the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, as well as drones. And then there were all the Boko Haram splinter groups, which made it harder for Wakil to keep track of which faction was carrying out which attack.

Despite the presence of a multinational task force of specially trained army units, and repeated claims by Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, that the group has been “technically defeated”, its insurgency continues. In March, the Chadian and Nigerian armies kicked off a major offensive operation against Boko Haram. Later that month, 92 Chadian soldiers were killed in a battle that lasted seven hours . Chadian forces claimed they killed 1,000 militants in a mission launched that month. In June, militants carried out multiple attacks in north-eastern Nigeria, which left scores of civilians dead.

It’s hard to say who is winning the war, but Wakil’s boys are dying before they can even surrender. A couple of days after Ali Garga was killed, Wakil called me into her bedroom to watch old videos of him. It was night-time, and I sat on the fluffy pink comforter beside Wakil, and looked at the tablet in her hands. There, on the screen, were Garga and his wife, a rifle slung over her shoulder. They were dancing in a clearing of trees. All around them, sword-carrying mujahideen danced with women, standing shoulder to shoulder, shuffling back and forth. Everyone was beaming. Under a bright sky, Boko Haram was dancing.

I looked up from the tablet and saw Wakil smile as she watched her son. I remembered something she had told me one evening in her kitchen. All she wanted, she said, was for her boys to come out, so she could cook isi ewu for them and they could eat together like old times.

Most viewed

special assignment boko haram

The Star Edition


This copy is for your personal non-commercial use only. To order presentation-ready copies of Toronto Star content for distribution to colleagues, clients or customers, or inquire about permissions/licensing, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com

A Nigerian civil society group marches last month in response to the killing of several dozen students in the Yobe state. On the weekend, Boko Haram released a video showing gunmen mowing down civilians lying face down in a dorm.

Boko Haram shown killing civilian captives in video

A new video from nigeria’s homegrown boko haram extremists shows gunmen mowing down civilians lying face down in a dorm..

MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA—A new video from Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram extremists shows gunmen mowing down civilians lying face down in a dorm, and a leader saying they are being killed because they are “infidels” or non-believers.

There are so many corpses the gunmen have difficulty stepping to reach bodies still twitching with life. Most appear to be adult men.

“We have made sure the floor of this hall is turned red with blood, and this is how it is going to be in all future attacks and arrests of infidels,” the group leader says in a message. “From now, killing, slaughtering, destructions and bombing will be our religious duty anywhere we invade.”

The video, released to journalists late Saturday, comes as Cameroon’s army announced it had broken up a Boko Haram training camp in the Mayo-Danay district in the country’s Far North region.

The army was looking for other hideouts in the area, said Jean-Pierre Mbida, a soldier with the Rapid Intervention Battalion assigned to fighting the insurgents.

“We will continue monitoring the area in the hope of uncovering any other Boko Haram hideouts and training grounds,” Mbida said.

Thousands of members of Islamic extremist group have struck across the border into Cameroon. Farther north, Boko Haram employs recruits from Chad, and in Niger, the government has declared a “humanitarian crisis” and appealed for international aid to help tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees driven from their homes by the insurgency.

These recent events show how neighbouring countries are increasingly being drawn into Nigeria's Islamic uprising, which frequently targets students and schools. (Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language.)

The setting of the latest video appears to be a school, a long dormitory furnished with bunk beds which the leader says is in Bama, a town 60 kilometres north of Gwoza, in northeast Nigeria.

Previously, the militants had told residents of villages and towns that they would only kill enemies, and wanted people to live peacefully in the area they have dubbed an Islamic caliphate, a large swath along Nigeria’s northeastern border with Cameroon that they have controlled for more than three months.

In the video, the leader notes that the prophet Mohammed advised prisoners should be held, not killed, but says “we felt this is not the right time for us to keep prisoners; that is why we will continue to see that the grounds are crimsoned with the flowing blood of prisoners.”

He says some of those killed may call themselves Muslims but are considered infidels by Boko Haram, a Sunni Jihadi group that imposes strict sharia law.

Thousands of people have been killed and about 1.6 million driven from their homes in the five-year insurgency.

Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be a registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)

More from The Star & Partners

Top stories.

Copyright owned or licensed by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or distribution of this content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited and/or its licensors. To order copies of Toronto Star articles, please go to: www.TorontoStarReprints.com

Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Chad’s Escalating Fight against Boko Haram

By Daniel Eizenga

April 20, 2020

A rise in Boko Haram and ISWA attacks in Chad has been met with a military surge to clear the area. Enduring success will require a sustained presence and an intensified regional commitment.

Chadian soldiers in Bosso, Niger

Chadian soldiers in Bosso, Niger. (Photo: VOA/Nicolas Pinault )

On March 23, Boko Haram militants staged a complex attack on Chadian troops stationed at a base in Bohoma. The attack lasted for 7 hours and ultimately left 98 Chadian soldiers dead and dozens more wounded. The battle of Bohoma (alternatively spelled Bohouma, Bouma, and Boma) highlights worrying improvements to Boko Haram’s combat and intelligence capacities, given that the Chadian Army has been widely considered the superior regional force.

The attack follows years of insurgency waged by Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), in the Lake Chad Basin. These have largely been concentrated in northern Nigeria but also in northern Cameroon, southeastern Niger, and western Chad. Within Chad, militant Islamist group activity has been concentrated in Lac Province, which encompasses all Chadian territory around and across the lake. The number of confrontations between insurgents and Chadian soldiers tripled from 7 in 2018 to 21 in 2019. Moreover, in an apparent change of tactics since the beginning of 2019, civilian communities in Chad have been targeted 15 times resulting in dozens of casualties and abductions.

The violence has displaced nearly 170,000 people in Lac Province, roughly one-third of the Chadian population in that area. It also has endangered livelihoods by hindering agricultural production and blocking cross-border trade, both contributing to the UN’s estimate that 5.3 million people in Chad will require humanitarian assistance in 2020.

After the March 23 attack, the Chadian military launched an offensive led by President Idriss Déby to clear the insurgents from Chadian territory. Boko Haram’s ability to accomplish such a devastating attack, along with the preceding increase in militant Islamist group activity in Chad’s Lac Province, however, raises the prospect that Boko Haram and ISWA have gained momentum and now pose a greater threat to Chad and stability in the wider region.

Violent Events Linked to Militant Islamist Groups in Lac Province, Chad (2019-2020)

Data source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)

Boko Haram’s Activities in Chad

The scale and threat of Boko Haram and ISWA’s activities in Chad have fluctuated over the years. The January 2015 massacre of roughly 2,000 civilians at Baga Kawa, Nigeria (sometimes referred to only as Baga), an important trading hub and port on Lake Chad, prompted the mobilization of more than 1,000 Chadian soldiers into Nigeria to push Boko Haram out of its strongholds in Borno State, Nigeria. The operation was a success, but the fallout was swift. Boko Haram quickly planned and executed multiple suicide attacks in N’Djamena during 2015, and its dispersed militants set up camps across the many islands on the lake, including those in Lac Province.

This initial period from 2015 to 2016 saw an influx in violence for communities in Chad along the Cameroonian and Nigerian borders. However, by the end of 2016, the security situation on the Chadian side of the lake began to improve due to the military’s sustained presence and a containment strategy that discouraged encroachments on Chadian communities. At this time, most Boko Haram activity took place elsewhere in the broader Lake Chad region.

“Al Barnawi has renounced attacks on Muslim civilians, while Shekau freely targets non–Boko Haram Muslim civilians.”

By late 2016, Boko Haram had split into two factions: one led by Abubakar Shekau and the other led by Abu Musab al Barnawi, becoming ISWA. The two factions separated over differences in tactics and ideology . For instance, ISWA is not known to conduct female suicide bombings, while Shekau’s Boko Haram is. Also, al Barnawi has renounced attacks on Muslim civilians, while Shekau freely targets non–Boko Haram Muslim civilians, declaring them apostates. Over time, the influence of each grew over different geographic spaces. Shekau’s faction established a stronghold in Sambisa Forest and the Mandara Mountains in northeastern Nigeria and parts of northern Cameroon. Meanwhile, al Barnawi’s faction maintained a presence along the Nigerian shores of Lake Chad and the Niger-Nigerian border.

One contingent of militants operating around Lake Chad led by Ibrahim Bakura, also known as Bakura Doron, concentrated its activities around the northern basin of Lake Chad. This contingent actively raided communities in the borderlands of the lake , especially in Niger during the 2016-2017 timeframe. By 2018, the Bakura-led faction of fighters had established itself under the leadership of Shekau and began to target military outposts in Nigeria and Cameroon. In Chad, their activities primarily took place in Kaiga-Kindjiria Sous-Préfecture, an area bordering Niger and Nigeria.

Boko Haram flag across from Bosso border post

Boko Haram flag across from Bosso border post in Niger. (Photo: EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie )

Despite these raids, insecurity from Boko Haram and ISWA factions operating in Chad remained relatively contained for much of 2017 and throughout 2018. Over the course of 2019, however, the threat of insecurity posed by Boko Haram and ISWA in Chad steadily grew in Lac Province (see map). The strategic objectives of the increased attacks remain unclear, though some have speculated that it may be linked to leadership changes within ISWA , the steady growth of the Bakura-led faction of fighters that remains loyal to Shekau, or competition between the two groups .

The Attack on Bohoma

The rise in the number of attacks and fatalities in Chad in 2019 suggests that the March 23 attack on the military outpost at Bohoma fits a trend of Boko Haram and ISWA gaining ground and capabilities in Chad. During the attack at Bohoma, hundreds of militants stormed the military base on four sides from at least five boats fitted with outboard motors. The surprise attack began just before dawn and continued until the Chadian soldiers were overrun around noon. Boko Haram militants then sacked the base, looting significant materiel and destroying the equipment they left behind, including roughly two dozen military vehicles. The attack is the most significant launched by Boko Haram outside of Nigeria in recent years.

Beyond Boko Haram’s surprise tactics and sizable number of forces, the battle demonstrated that Boko Haram forces in the region have improved their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The Boko Haram militants were able to successfully ambush reinforcements while they were en route to support those under attack at Bohoma. Militants may have also known that the troops at Bohoma had recently been relieved by soldiers with less familiarity of the area and experience combatting the insurgents. Furthermore, the fact that hundreds of Boko Haram fighters could be mobilized without the Chadians detecting their movements suggests a failing on the part of Chadian ISR capabilities.

“The March 23 attack on the military outpost at Bohoma fits a trend of Boko Haram and ISWA gaining ground and capabilities in Chad.”

The attack on Bohoma raises other important questions such as: which group or groups were responsible for the attack? Who led and organized the assault? And what strategic purpose did it serve? It is hard to offer more than speculative responses to these questions. The Boko Haram contingent operating on the northern shores of Lake Chad, supposedly led by Ibrahim Bakura, is believed to be responsible for the attack on Bohoma. A video of Shekau claiming the attack circulated on messaging services the following day. However, the Nigerien Ministry of Defense had previously claimed to have killed Bakura in a joint Niger-Nigeria operation that took place in their respective territories around the lake from March 10 to 16.

Should this lake faction of Boko Haram be responsible for the Bohoma attack, it would be particularly worrisome since ISWA is widely recognized as the stronger of the two forces operating across the Lake Chad region. Recent leadership tensions within ISWA may have unraveled some of its support, perhaps to Boko Haram’s advantage. Yet, ISWA claimed to have ambushed the Nigerian military near the village of Goniri in Borno State, killing 100 soldiers and militiamen, on the same day as the attack on Bohoma. These events may signal that both groups are gaining support and capability in the wider region.

Response of the Chadian Armed Forces and Operation Bohoma’s Wrath

The response from the Chadian armed forces and government came rapidly. Déby flew to Bohoma personally to witness the damage left behind on the battlefield. He stayed in Lac Province to announce 3 days of national mourning for the 98 fallen soldiers and subsequently launched a military operation called Operation colère de Boma on March 31.

The operation mobilized hundreds of soldiers, including a battalion that had originally been deployed to the Liptako-Gourma region in the central Sahel, where the borders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso meet. The operation took place across the Kaya and Fouli départments of Lac Province and across their borders into Niger and Nigeria. Both départments were placed under a state of emergency and declared war zones. During the operation, Chadian armed forces systematically cleared the zones using a surge strategy through five sectors to eliminate the presence of militant Islamist fighters from the area.

The operation, which targeted both Boko Haram and ISWA forces, officially concluded on April 9 after Chadian soldiers pursued the remaining militant contingents into Nigerian and Nigerien territory, destroyed their bases, and collected the materiel left behind. Fifty-two Chadian soldiers lost their lives during the operation. Two militant Islamist group command posts were destroyed as part of the operation. Officially, roughly 1,000 militants were neutralized, 58 suspects were taken prisoner, dozens of motorized boats destroyed, and significant arms caches reclaimed. The prisoners were transported to a jail in N’Djamena for further investigation where 44 were later found dead after an apparent mass suicide .

Chadian armed forces in N'Djamena after the end of Operation Bohoma's Wrath

Chadian armed forces in N’Djamena after the end of Operation “Bohoma’s Wrath.” (Photo: VOA/André Kodmadjingar )

In conjunction with the operation, the Chadians deftly deployed a public relations campaign that followed the progress of the military. Photos and video of Déby in military garb discussing the operation with military leaders proliferated on social media and national media outlets during the campaign. The media exposure helped the Chadian government bolster popular support for the operations within Chad.

Déby also used the publicity to pressure the Nigerien and Nigerian forces, complaining that they had not been carrying their weight in the fight against Boko Haram and ISWA and had not sufficiently helped during the operation. He even pronounced a deadline by which Chadian soldiers would withdraw and return to Chad should no Nigerien or Nigerian forces arrive to replace them in their respective territories. When this failed to elicit much response, Déby further antagonized his partners by making comments in Arabic (that were apparently misinterpreted in French), suggesting that Chadian soldiers would no longer participate in any operations outside of their national territory.

The miscommunication provided the Chadian government with a public relations coup. The flurry of analysis and media reporting that explored Chad’s hypothetical withdrawal from all external operations underscored how essential the Chadian armed forces have become to regional security. When the Chadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified Déby’s remarks several days later, it reaffirmed Chad’s commitments to regional security initiatives, namely, the Multinational Joint Taskforce (MNJTF), the Sahel G5 joint force, and MINUSMA (the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, to which Chad is the largest single contributor with more than 1,400 troops stationed there as of January 2020). In doing so, the importance of Chadian contributions appeared indisputable.

“Unless further steps are taken, it seems likely that Boko Haram and ISWA will adapt and reemerge as they have in the past.”

The show of force from the Chadian military worked to restore the image of Chadian soldiers as a bulwark against militant Islamist groups in the region. It also ratcheted up pressure on armed forces in neighboring countries to more forcefully engage militant Islamist groups. However, unless further steps are taken, it seems likely that Boko Haram and ISWA will adapt and reemerge as they have in the past .

While the Chadian government claims that no Boko Haram fighters remain in Chad following Operation colère de Bohoma, it is difficult to assess how substantially the offensive diminished the capacity of Boko Haram and ISWA in the broader Lake Chad region.

Addressing the Militant Islamist Threat to Chad and the Region

Sustaining the presence of the Chadian (or other regional) armed forces for a lengthy duration is essential for wearing down Boko Haram and ISWA. Insurgencies in weak states that are characterized by difficult terrain, such as those around Lake Chad, are particularly challenging to resolve.

Regional forces have an opportunity to capitalize on the recent Chadian surge by developing a long-term strategy for securing the region. Insurgencies are organizations that can be worn down when faced with sustained pressure . Reaffirming a commitment to holding the territory recently secured by Chadian soldiers should include gathering intelligence on the militant Islamist groups, disrupting their resource streams, and mounting further offensives to dislodge them from new hideouts.

“Insurgencies are organizations that can be worn down when faced with sustained pressure.”

Chad should continue to pressure its regional partners for increased engagement and coordination in the fight against Boko Haram and ISWA. Using public relations to pressure regional partners may lead to greater contributions to—and focus on—their shared security goals. Defeating Boko Haram and ISWA will require contributions and coordination from all the countries of the Lake Chad Basin, lest these militant groups simply shift their bases to the territory of least resistance. This is a reason insurgencies often thrive along border areas and underscores that this is genuinely a regional problem, requiring a regional commitment.

Successful counterinsurgency operations in contexts like the area around Lake Chad must be enduring in order to permanently dismantle insurgent initiatives. After all, insurgents have the advantage in that by simply surviving, they are effectively winning. Regional actors must also recognize that just because conflict persists and the actors engaged continually adapt and evolve, this does not mean counterinsurgency efforts are futile. Rather, the successes and setbacks of any counterinsurgency should be met with recalibrations in strategy and renewed efforts to disrupt, dismay, and ultimately defeat the insurgent groups. The Chadian military has demonstrated the ability to expunge the militant Islamist groups from its territory. Sustaining this success, however, hinges on its ability to coordinate with regional partners and demonstrate its long-term commitment to protect communities around Lake Chad.

Additional Resources

More on:   Countering Violent Extremism ​ Boko Haram ​ Chad ​ Sahel ​

Nigeria's Boko Haram: Who Are They and What Do They Want?

What drives Nigerian militants to kidnap schoolgirls?

Outrage over the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls continued to intensify Wednesday as relatives and supporters of the girls planned a protest in the capital, Abuja. The kidnapping has drawn global attention to the Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram, which President Obama this week called "one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations."

On Tuesday U.S. officials announced that they would lend military and law enforcement help in the search for the girls.

The 276 girls still missing were taken from their school in a remote area of the country more than three weeks ago, and this week a Boko Haram leader officially took responsibility for the kidnapping, saying in a video that members of his group would marry girls as young as nine or sell them as slaves.

So what is Boko Haram and what does it want? Here are some answers:

What is Boko Haram?

Boko Haram—which means Western learning is forbidden —is a Nigerian Islamist militant group made up of dispersed cells and factions in the northeast of the country. It began with a group of young Islamic radicals in Maiduguri , the capital of Borno state, more than a decade ago, and its current incarnation as a violent insurgency dates to 2010.

What are its objectives?

Boko Haram aims to make northern Nigeria an Islamic state . Although it has ties to other African terrorist groups, it has few jihadist ambitions beyond Nigeria. Western interests are rarely targets of its attacks.

Why did Boko Haram arise in northern Nigeria?

Bad governance, corruption, persistent economic hardship, and rising inequality have fostered the growth of radical extremist groups. A Nigerian bishop characterized Boko Haram as "a resistance movement against misrule rather than a purely Islamic group."

According to a recent USIP and CLEEN Foundation study, the three major reasons young men join Boko Haram are unemployment and poverty, manipulation by extremist religious leaders, and a lack of awareness of the authentic teachings of Islam.

Whom does Boko Haram target?

At first it attacked institutions of the Nigerian government: police stations, security officers, and military barracks. The first large-scale attacks were in 2010, intended to exact revenge for the state's killing of leader Mohammed Yusuf and hundreds of his followers in July 2009. Since then, the militants have moved on to civilian targets: churches, schools, bus stations, and mosques. The group doesn't distinguish between Christians and Muslims in its attacks.

Who is Abubakar Shekau?

Abubakar Shekau was Mohammed Yusuf's deputy. He took control of a Boko Haram faction in Kano state after Yusuf's death in 2009. Shekau is now one of several Boko Haram leaders —and the most notorious in the international media after a video aired on Monday in which he claimed responsibility for the abduction of nearly 300 girls from their boarding school in April and threatened to sell them.

What effect has Boko Haram had on the population in northeastern Nigeria?

More than 5,000 people have been killed in the armed conflict associated with Boko Haram, at either the hands of insurgents or of government security forces. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes because of the violence, and fear permeates the air. As James Verini wrote in a November 2013 article for National Geographic, "Boko Haram has become something more than a terrorist group, more even than a movement. Its name has taken on an incantatory power. Fearing they will be heard and killed by Boko Haram, Nigerians refuse to say the group's name aloud, referring instead to 'the crisis' or 'the insecurity.'"

Does Boko Haram have links to other terrorist organizations?

Although most of Boko Haram's attacks have been on Nigerian targets and most of their objectives have been national, its leaders do have connections to other African Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Somalia's Al Shabaab, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

What has been the Nigerian government's response?

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency from May 2013 through May 2014 and is considering extending it. In 2013 he also declared Boko Haram a terrorist organization. The federal government deployed Joint Task Force (JTF) troops made up of police, soldiers, and agents from the State Security Service to combat Boko Haram on the ground and fighter jets to bomb Boko Haram camps from the air. The meagerly funded response was supplemented by vigilantes from civilian JTFs. The JTFs largely drove Boko Haram from cities, but rural areas continue to be attacked. JTFs are responsible for at least half the violent deaths in northeastern Nigeria and have been accused of multiple human rights violations.

Read This Next

Who first rode horses these skeletons may have the answer, how cosmic rays helped find a tunnel in egypt's great pyramid, one of earth's loneliest volcanoes holds an extraordinary secret.

The groundbreaking promise of ‘cellular housekeeping’

History & Culture

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with mars, how viruses shape our world, the era of greyhound racing in the u.s. is coming to an end, see how people have imagined life on mars through history, see how nasa’s new mars rover will explore the red planet.

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society Copyright © 2015-2023 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved

Educate your inbox

Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.

Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.


Council on Foreign Relations Council on Foreign Relations

Leave your feedback

Background Briefing: What Is Boko Haram?

Suspected members of the hardline Islamist group Boko Haram attacked a school in Damaturu, Nigeria , early Tuesday morning, burning or shooting 29 boys, but sparing the female students, news outlets reported. The Council on Foreign Relations offers this backgrounder on the extremist group.

By Mohammed Aly Sergie, online writer/editor, and Toni Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations

(Updated Feb. 26)


Boko Haram, a diffuse Islamist sect, has attacked Nigeria’s police, military, rival clerics, politicians, schools, religious buildings, public institutions, and civilians with increasing regularity since 2009. Some experts view the group as an armed revolt against government corruption, abusive security forces, and widening regional economic disparity in an already impoverished country. They argue that Abuja should do more to address the strife between the disaffected Muslim north and the Christian south.

Boko Haram’s brutal campaign — including a suicide attack on a UN building in Abuja in 2011, repeated attacks that have killed dozens of students, burning of villages, as well as ties to regional terror groups — led the U.S. Department of State to designate it a  foreign terrorist organization . The Nigerian government has dispatched forces to crush the insurgency, but has been ineffective.

The road to radicalization

Boko Haram was created in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, by Islamist cleric Mohammed Yusuf, who led a group of radical Islamist youth in the 1990s. The group aims to establish a fully Islamic state in Nigeria, including the implementation of criminal  sharia courts  across the country.  Paul Lubeck , a University of California professor studying Muslim societies in Africa, says Yusuf was  a trained Salafist  (a school of thought often associated with jihad), and was strongly influenced by Ibn Taymiyyah , a fourteenth-century legal scholar who preached Islamic fundamentalism and is an important figure for radical groups in the Middle East.

The sect calls itself Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or “people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teachings and jihad.” It’s widely known as Boko Haram, which colloquially translates into “ Western education is sin ,” for its rejection of Western concepts such as evolution and the big bang theories.

Before 2009, the group did not aim to violently overthrow the government. Yusuf criticized northern Muslims for participating in what he saw as an illegitimate, non-Islamic state, and preached a doctrine of withdrawal. But  violent clashes between Christians and Muslims  and harsh government treatment, including pervasive  police brutality , encouraged the group’s radicalization. Boko Haram’s hundreds of followers, also called Yusuffiya, consist largely of impoverished northern Islamic students and clerics, as well as professionals, many of whom are unemployed.

In July 2009, Boko Haram members refused to follow a motorbike helmet law, leading to heavy-handed police tactics that set off an armed uprising in the northern state of Bauchi and spread into the states of Borno, Yobe, and Kano. The incident was suppressed by the army and left more than eight hundred dead. It also led to the televised execution of Yusuf, as well as the deaths of his father-in-law and other sect members, which human rights advocates consider to be extrajudicial killings. In the aftermath of the 2009 unrest, “an Islamist insurrection under a splintered leadership” emerged, says Lubeck. Boko Haram carried out a number of suicide bombings and assassinations, from Maiduguri to Abuja, and staged a prison break in Bauchi, freeing more than seven hundred inmates in 2010.

Attacks continued to escalate, and by 2013 some analysts began to see  greater influence by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb  in Boko Haram operations. Terrorist acts against civilians, like the murder of sixty-five students while they slept at the agricultural college in Yobe state in September 2013, chainsaw beheadings of truck drivers, and the  killing of hundreds on the roads of northern Nigeria  raised doubts about the central government’s ability to control territory and amplified fears of protracted violence in the country.

Nigeria assembled a Joint Task Force (JTF) of military and police units to battle Boko Haram and declared a “state of emergency” in three northeast states—Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa—in May 2013. The move pushed  the militants out of cities, but attacks in rural areas continued . The JTF, augmented by vigilantes who were folded into officially sanctioned Civilian JTF units, have been implicated in extrajudicial killings of militants and civilians, which may have galvanized support for the insurgents.

Boko Haram is so diffuse that fighters associated with it don’t necessarily follow Salafi doctrine. Many  foot soldiers are drawn from impoverished, religiously uneducated youth , according to  Jacob Zenn , an analyst on African affairs at the Jamestown Foundation. Some fighters claim to have been trained in Iran and are part of a Shiite Muslim group, Zenn writes, while others were involved in other conflicts in Nigeria and the Sahel region, and are now caught up in the latest violent extremist group.

Rising against the state

The Nigerian government’s assessment that Boko Haram was an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist movement left it with few options other than using force to deal with the group. Analysts say the focus on a terrorist link ignores the context from which Boko Haram emerged and emphasizes security issues that may only radicalize the group further.

“The problem with understanding Boko Haram is definitional. What do we mean by Boko Haram?” says CFR senior fellow  John Campbell . Yusuf, Boko Haram’s founder, didn’t have complete control of the group, and after his execution, his followers splintered into at least five factions. Boko Haram’s putative leader today, Abubakar Shekau, appears to be focused on fighting the Nigerian government in Borno, Campbell says, while other units expanded their attacks in Nigeria and have conducted limited operations in neighboring Cameroon and Niger, signaling an evolving regional vision for the group.

While Boko Haram can’t be neatly characterized as an insurgency or terrorist organization, its origins appear rooted in grievances over poor governance and sharp inequality in Nigerian society. “The emergence of Boko Haram signifies the maturation of  long-festering extremist impulses  that run deep in the social reality of northern Nigeria,” writes Nigerian analyst Chris Ngwodo. “But the group itself is an effect and not a cause; it is a symptom of decades of failed government and elite delinquency finally ripening into social chaos.”

Efforts to address dissatisfaction among Muslims in northern states, such as the reintroduction of sharia criminal courts, weren’t successful because the courts weren’t considered fair. Human Rights Watch said in a 2011 report that “ corruption is so pervasive  in Nigeria it has turned public service for many into a kind of criminal enterprise.”

Police brutality and impunity added to the tensions. A 2009  Amnesty International report (PDF)  said Nigerian police were responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial killings and disappearances each year that largely “go uninvestigated and unpunished.” The group said in a later report that  nearly 1,000 people , mostly Islamist militants, died in military custody in the first half of 2013. Human rights advocates say Nigerian authorities are rarely, if ever, held criminally accountable for the  public executions  of Boko Haram followers. In 2011, the government began to try five police officers connected to Yusuf’s killing, and started the  court martial of a military commander  responsible for troops that allegedly killed forty-two sect members in 2009, but both proceedings weren’t concluded as of February 2014.

Boko Haram has used the growing grievances to promote the idea that an Islamic state would bring a better and more just government to power.

The North-South divide

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with more than 174 million people and nearly 350 ethnic groups speaking 250 languages. The country is split between Muslims and Christians, with 10 percent of the people following indigenous sects. Nigeria has long grappled with how to govern a diverse nation in which the struggle between Christians and Muslims over political power remains a significant factor in the ongoing unrest. Sectarian violence, particularly in Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Benue states, the central part of the country where religious groups as well as farmers and herders collide, boosted the death toll. More than 25,000 people were killed in Nigeria since 1999, according to Human Rights Watch and the  CFR Nigeria Security Tracker .

Despite a per capita income of more than $2,700 and vast wealth in natural resources, Nigeria has one of the world’s poorest populations. An estimated 70 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Economic disparities between the north and the rest of the country are particularly stark. In the north, 72 percent of people live in poverty, compared to 27 percent in the south and 35 percent in the Niger Delta.

Another crucial factor in economic inequality is oil. In his book  Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink , Campbell writes that the “formal politics” of northern Nigeria are “overwhelmingly dominated by Muslim elites, who have, like their counterparts across the country, benefited from oil wealth at the expense of regional development.” He says that the central purpose of the Nigerian state is to divide up the country’s oil wealth among elites, making Nigeria’s politics a “zero-sum game.” In the oil-producing delta, for example, groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ( MEND ), which has attacked oil infrastructure, are largely an outgrowth of the feeling that the south should get more revenue than it already does.

The dispute over the 2011 election results, which led to more than eight hundred deaths, also played a role in Boko Haram’s escalating violence. Experts say many northern Nigerians view the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, as illegitimate, arguing that he ignored an informal power-rotation agreement that should have kept a Muslim as president this round. (Muslim president Umar Musa Yar’dua died in 2010, two years into his four-year term.) If Jonathan wins the national elections in 2015, or if there are no elections because of the unrest in the North,  political tensions in Nigeria will increase , Campbell says.

Terror ties and policy prescriptions

Experts say Boko Haram’s 2010 prison break, use of propaganda, and the bombing of police headquarters in June 2011 indicate an increasing level of sophistication and organization, which could indicate outside help. U.S. officials say the group has ties to  al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) , which operates in northwest Africa,  Somalia’s al-Shabab , and  al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula .

Security officials in Nigeria and around the world are concerned that the group has splintered into two factions: one that is focused on local grievances and another that is seeking regional expansion. Alleged links to al-Qaeda groups  have worried Washington , although some experts question the depth of regional terror ties and note that it’s unclear which attacks are actually the work of Boko Haram. (Some acts attributed to Boko Haram may be the work of criminals looking to capitalize on the mayhem.) Analysts say that focusing exclusively on terrorism could distract from policy options needed to address the underlying issues driving the insurgency.

Before the UN bombing in August 2011, the Nigerian government started to look at solutions similar to its quelling of unrest in the Niger Delta, including negotiation and amnesty. But experts say such a solution is unlikely for a group like Boko Haram, because its grievances are more diverse and less material than others. The lack of clear leadership of Boko Haram also hindered peace talks.

President Jonathan appears intent on quelling Boko Haram by force through a “state of emergency” that will continue until May 2014. Many experts argue that Boko Haram can’t be defeated on the battlefield; the group appears to be gaining strength after the crackdown, acquiring better weapons and fielding more fighters than ever. “Boko Haram [is] better armed and better motivated than our own troops,” Borno state governor Kashim Shettima said in February 2014. “Given the present state of affairs,  it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram .”

The U.S. designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru as foreign terrorist organizations will allow Washington to investigate and prosecute suspects, but there is little appetite for direct intervention. The State Department urged Nigeria to counter these extremist groups “ through a combination of law enforcement, political, and development efforts, as well as military engagement .” Analysts say the Nigerian government must do more to win hearts and minds by providing better education and health care services in the north, and including prominent, locally respected northern Muslims in the cabinet.

A version of this backgrounder first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations’ website . We aired  more about the attack on Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour.

Support Provided By: Learn more

special assignment boko haram

Be the first to know about UNICEF's humanitarian relief efforts in times of emergency.

At a displacement camp in Garin Wazam, Niger, two girls pump water from a new borehole installed by UNICEF and partners.


A violent insurgency, a prolonged humanitarian crisis.

Boko Haram, a violent Islamist insurgency, has terrorized communities around West Africa's Lake Chad Basin for years — creating new hardships and compounding existing ones for millions of people in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, many of them still displaced and struggling to survive. 

Children have been abducted, killed and used as suicide bombers. Villages have been attacked, and — if not burned to the ground — left stripped of all resources. Safe water, adequate health care and other basics are difficult to come by. Malnutrition rates among children have soared. 

Severe acute malnutrition is life-threatening without treatment

Delivering humanitarian aid to areas affected by conflict is extremely challenging. Displacement camps tend to be overcrowded and host communities have little to offer to newcomers. UNICEF continues to work with partners across the region to identify and respond to urgent needs, connecting children and families with health care, nutrition, sources of safe water and protection services.

Patients wait for treatment at a UNICEF mobile health clinic in Garin Wazam, Diffa, Niger, where hundreds of thousands of people from around Lake Chad have fled to escape violence perpetrated by Boko Haram insurgents.

Patients wait for treatment at a UNICEF mobile health clinic in Garin Wazam, Diffa, Niger, where tens of thousands of people from the Lake Chad region have fled to escape violence perpetrated by Boko Haram insurgents. © UNICEF/UN029266/Phelps

Help UNICEF save and protect vulnerable children around the world. Your contribution can make a difference .


United Nations

United Nations

Situation in west africa, sahel ‘extremely volatile’ as terrorists exploit ethnic animosities, special representative warns security council.

Intercommunal violence and persistent attacks by extremists continue to undermine peace and security across West Africa, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the region warned the Security Council in a 9 July videoconference meeting * , as delegates called for sustained engagement with all partners to advance a holistic approach to peace.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), said that despite intense efforts by concerned countries, violent extremists continue attack security forces and civilians, forcibly recruiting children into fighting in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2020/585 ), he described security conditions as “extremely volatile”.  In Burkina Faso alone, as of June, 921,000 people have been forced to flee, representing a 92 per cent rise over 2019 figures.  In Mali, nearly 240,000 people are internally displaced — 54 per cent of them women — while in Niger, 489,000 people were forced to flee, including Nigerian and Malian refugees.  In Nigeria, 7.7 million people will need emergency assistance in 2020.

He said that as national and multinational forces intensify their operations to counter the violence, communities have organized volunteer groups and self-defence militias.  Rights groups have raised concerns over reports of alleged abuses by these militias, as well as by security and defence forces.

“The growing linkages between terrorism, organized crime and intercommunal violence cannot be overemphasized”, he said.  “Terrorists continue to exploit latent ethnic animosities and the absence of the State in peripheral areas to advance their agenda.”

He urged the United Nations to remain committed to working with all partners, by building national and institutional capacity, improving community resilience and advocating for good governance, political inclusion, respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law.  It must also support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 2020-2024 action plan to end terrorism and extend broad support for both the Regional Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience Strategy for Areas Affected by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin Region, and the United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel.

For his part, he said he facilitated a meeting, on 4 March, among the Lake Chad Basin Commission secretariat, the head of the Multinational Joint Task Force, and the Regional United Nations Sustainable Development Group, in Dakar, to develop a common understanding of the role of United Nations agencies in implementing the Regional Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience Strategy.  Further, UNOWAS signed a cooperation agreement with the Mano River Union on peace and security issues and support to women and youth on cross-border cooperation.

Turning to climate change, he said its effects are amplifying farmer-herder conflicts, increasing social tensions, and fostering rural-urban migration, violence and food insecurity.  UNOWAS is conducting an analysis to understand the options for mitigating the impact on peace and security, in partnership with ECOWAS, the World Bank, and with international and regional think tanks.

As for COVID-19, he said the coronavirus is exacerbating known conflict drivers, negatively impacting human rights and the rule of law, and disproportionately affecting women and girls, with reported increases in femicide.  UNOWAS has held virtual consultations with resident coordinators to assess the impact of COVID-19, identifying ways to strengthen collaboration with national and regional stakeholders in support of Government response efforts.  The resident coordinators noted that while Government COVID-19 responses have been consensus driven, there have been cases where responses received serious criticism from national actors.  UNOWAS will continue work with countries to broaden social support, inclusivity and national cohesion.

Despite the pandemic, the region has seen a number of positive developments, he said, notably the relatively peaceful conduct of elections in Togo, local elections in Benin, and the completion of work of the Constitutional Review Commission in the Gambia.

Noting that five high-stakes presidential elections are planned in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger, he said they “present an opportunity for democratic consolidation in these countries”.  To ensure they are credible and inclusive, consensus will be needed to address underlying challenges.  While the pandemic led to delays or the postponement of voter registration in some of these countries, preparations have resumed and stakeholders in most of these States have maintained their determination to hold elections as scheduled.

In the ensuing dialogue, China’s delegate encouraged countries in the region to settle differences through dialogue.  Recalling that Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Niger all have elections upcoming in 2020, he said that to create conducive conditions, parties must enhance mutual trust and resolve differences peacefully through dialogue.  He encouraged UNOWAS to strengthen coordination with other United Nations agencies, and regional and subregional organizations, aligning international and regional development initiatives with national strategies.  Further, greater support should be provided to help countries stem Boko Haram attacks, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and intercommunal violence.  All parties should heed the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.  China supports various peace and security programmes, providing 300 million yuan in aid for counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel.

France’s representative said the international community must redouble efforts to support regional countries.  In the three-border area shared by Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, terrorist groups are forcing thousands of people to flee.  Military operations carried out since March by France and the Group of Five for the Sahel have yielded results, weakening terrorist groups.  Consolidation of democratic processes in the region face a decisive moment.  In Guinea, legislative elections and the 22 March referendum were fraught with tensions and distrust.  It is essential that an in-depth dialogue takes place and the presidential election in October is held in a transparent, credible and inclusive manner.  In Burkina Faso, insecurity in the north and east could hinder the holding of elections on 22 November.  In the Lake Chad Basin, he welcomed successes achieved by Chad against terrorist groups.

Belgium’s representative, drawing attention to worsening security conditions in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, and Boko Haram terrorist attacks in Nigeria, said such violence has caused suffering for hundreds of thousands of civilians, with COVID-19 exacerbating this “already bleak” picture.  Noting that defence and security forces are obliged to respect human rights, he said fighting impunity is the best way to regain public trust.  A holistic approach to West Africa is needed, containing elements for good governance, fighting impunity, strengthening democratic institutions, addressing grievances of marginalized groups and fostering sustainable development.  “Threats to pacific coexistence need to be resisted,” he added, noting that voting in the upcoming elections must occur on a level playing field.  In Guinea, he called for renewed dialogue, while in Burkina Faso and Niger, he said that the challenge will be to ensure elections are held across those countries.  He expressed support for UNOWAS and United Nations country team efforts towards national reconciliation, post-conflict reconstruction and security sector reform.

Viet Nam’s representative called on political actors in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Guinea to reach consensus so that elections can take place inclusively, transparently, credibly and peacefully.  All concerned parties should cooperate in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism across West Africa and the Sahel, and he more broadly voiced support for the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.  Indeed, Governments and other relevant parties in the region should uphold their obligations to implement international humanitarian law and ensure that aid reaches those most in need, without hindrance.  He also called for an integrated approach to security, humanitarian and development challenges, and climate change.

The representative of the Dominican Republic expressed hope that activities suspended due to COVID-19 can soon be resumed, including the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission.  Voter registration and constitutional referenda across the subregion must also be completed, with presidential elections held in an inclusive and peaceful political climate.  He expressed concern that the pandemic will further degrade the human security crisis, especially in the Sahel, and push Nigeria’s growth rate down by as much as 3.4 per cent in 2020.  Some 24 million Sahelians need humanitarian assistance and protection, a situation exacerbated by poor health systems and food insecurity, which could trigger confrontations over scarce resources.  He condemned attacks against civilians by violent extremists, urging leaders to demonstrate political will and steadfastly carry out regional strategies to prevent and resolve crises.

The representative of Estonia expressed concern over terrorist attacks and intercommunal violence, notably in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Liptako-Gourma tri-border area, stressing that the key to stability in the region is the full political ownership by regional States.  An effective State presence is of utmost importance.  He urged all countries to strengthen dispute-settlement mechanisms and address all grave violations, calling for perpetrators of such crimes to be held accountable, regardless of their status.  COVID-19 has added another layer to a complicated and dire humanitarian situation, which underscores that aid must reach all those in need.  Understanding grievances and addressing the causes of conflict must be at the core of national and international efforts.  He commended UNOWAS and ECOWAS for addressing the impact of climate change on security and encouraged them to take further steps in this regard.  The full participation of women and young people in political processes will bring the region closer to lasting stability and he encouraged that further steps be taken towards this goal.

The Russian Federation’s representative shared concerns over terrorist activity, inter-ethnic and intercommunal conflict, drug trafficking and organized crime across West Africa.  He expressed concern that Boko Haram has become more active in the Lake Chad Basin, calling COVID-19 “extremely dangerous” for regional security.  It is already clear that more people will need humanitarian assistance.  Yet, African States and public institutions have coped, and he expressed hope that elections scheduled across the region in 2020 will be held democratically, transparently and legitimately, with strict respect for sovereignty and no external interference.  Faced with the difficult tasks of helping to resolve regional crises, foster political mediation and strengthen State institutions, among other tasks, the success of UNOWAS depends on how well it coordinates with the African Union, ECOWAS and other regional organizations.  Some issues — including piracy and demarcation of the Cameroon-Nigeria border — require close cooperation with the United Nations Office for Central Africa.

The representative of the United States said UNOWAS should encourage the free, fair and transparent holding of elections across the region in 2020.  Countries in West Africa and the Sahel are grappling with internal political tensions, COVID-19, violence by armed groups and worsening food security and humanitarian conditions.  Noting that the United States has allocated $12 billion for the global response to COVID-19, she expressed concern over growing instability across the Sahel, and specifically, Nigeria.  States undermine their own credibility when security forces violate human rights and she called on regional Governments to strengthen State institutions and provide good governance to their citizens.  The United States is taking policy and programmatic steps to address violence emanating from the Sahel into coastal West Africa, especially since the 10 June attack in Côte d'Ivoire.  In Mali, it is monitoring protests calling for the President’s resignation.  All actors must engage in dialogue, she said, expressing opposition to any effort geared towards an extra-constitutional change of Government in Mali.

The United Kingdom’s representative drew attention to chronic underdevelopment, extreme poverty, marginalization, insecurity and governance vacuums filled by malevolent actors across the Sahel.  With more than 15 million people in need of aid and 3 million displaced in the Sahel alone, it is critical that the response reaches those most in need.  He urged all parties to ensure unhindered humanitarian access and movement to allow the delivery of essential goods and services.  “Without this, food insecurity and protection needs will continue to rise,” he asserted.  In Mali and Burkina Faso, all parties must respect human rights and international humanitarian law.  The rise in extremist and terrorist violence in the Lake Chad basin is also deeply troubling.  Preventing backsliding on governance, accountability, access to justice and human rights is critical to ensure environments conducive to free and fair elections.  He expressed the United Kingdom’s commitment to a global response to COVID-19, with $1 billion announced thus far, including $20 million dedicated to the African Union’s Response Fund.

Indonesia’s representative welcomed the holding of elections and political processes in several countries, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, and called for building the capacity of Governments and regional organizations so as to consolidate democracy.  He expressed concern over intercommunal violence in the region, advocating community-based dispute resolution mechanisms and efforts to both diffuse tensions and dismantle militias.  He commended Government efforts to fight cross-border security challenges and encouraged support for ECOWAS in implementing its 2020-2024 action plan to end terrorism.  It is also important to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation and he urged international partners to provide funding for life-saving assistance.  Furthermore, it is crucial to facilitate and maintain unimpeded humanitarian relief for hard-to-reach areas.

The representative of Germany, Council president for July, spoke in his national capacity to stress that the effects of climate change have led to disputes between herders and farmers over scarce resources.  Such conditions create a breeding ground for violent extremism and terrorism, he said, underscoring the importance of the “climate and security nexus” in the UNOWAS mandate.  Meanwhile, women and girls are targets of sexual and gender-based violence.  While commending the integration of the gendered dimension in the work of UNOWAS, he said “much more needs to be done”, as women’s full and equal participation substantially increases the chances for peace and stability.  More broadly, any international engagement must go hand-in-hand with the principles of national ownership.  “It is the primary responsibility of Governments to build trust in State institutions,” ensuring the rule of law and respect for human rights.  He expressed concern over tensions related to elections in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, as well as worsening security conditions in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Lake Chad Basin.  He urged all actors to fully respect human rights, stressing that freedom of opinion and expression is even more important during these difficult days of COVID-19.

Also participating in the meeting were representatives of Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Indonesia, Niger (also on behalf of South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States and Viet Nam.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, also addressed the Council.

* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.

Facebook Twitter Email Print LinkedIn


Site search.

Boko Haram, explained in 3 minutes

Share this story.

Share All sharing options for: Boko Haram, explained in 3 minutes

The Islamist group Boko Haram has been launching increasingly frequent and deadly attacks in northern Nigeria over the past year, and has recently expanded into Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Over 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes, just as Nigeria prepares for a general election. Watch the video above to learn about the roots of unrest in Nigeria.

Further reading:

The crisis in Nigeria, in 11 maps and charts

The real roots of Nigeria's Boko Haram problem

Both sides are losing in Nigeria's war on Boko Haram. Who will lose faster?

Will you support Vox’s explanatory journalism?

Millions turn to Vox to educate themselves, their family, and their friends about what’s happening in the world around them, and to learn about things that spark their curiosity. Financial contributions from our readers are a critical part of supporting our resource-intensive work and help us keep our journalism free for all. Please consider making a one-time contribution to Vox today.

We accept credit card, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. You can also contribute via

special assignment boko haram

Next Up In Video

Sign up for the newsletter future perfect.

Each week, we explore unique solutions to some of the world's biggest problems.

Thanks for signing up!

Check your inbox for a welcome email.

Oops. Something went wrong. Please enter a valid email and try again.

Conservatives Attend The Annual CPAC Event

Donald Trump is now fully at war with the Republican Party’s past

food bank

SNAP boosts kept millions out of poverty during Covid. Now they’re gone.

The HPV vaccine is drawn from a small vial into a syringe.

We can overcome vaccine hesitancy. Just look at the HPV shot.

A tangled bit of thin yellow rope, with one end leading off to the left and the other end off to the right.

Why it’s so hard to get answers on long Covid

Donald Trump Jr. standing onstage and pointing to one side. A sign behind him reads, “Triggered with Don Jr.”

CPAC used to be a barometer. Now it’s all about Trump.

Selena Gomez, in profile, sitting in an audience.

Hailey Bieber, Selena Gomez, and the Easter egg-ification of the Hollywood feud

Boko Haram Words

Words related to boko haram.

Below is a massive list of boko haram words - that is, words related to boko haram. The top 4 are: maiduguri , abubakar shekau , chad and niger . You can get the definition(s) of a word in the list below by tapping the question-mark icon next to it. The words at the top of the list are the ones most associated with boko haram, and as you go down the relatedness becomes more slight. By default, the words are sorted by relevance/relatedness, but you can also get the most common boko haram terms by using the menu below, and there's also the option to sort the words alphabetically so you can get boko haram words starting with a particular letter. You can also filter the word list so it only shows words that are also related to another word of your choosing. So for example, you could enter "maiduguri" and click "filter", and it'd give you words that are related to boko haram and maiduguri.

You can highlight the terms by the frequency with which they occur in the written English language using the menu below. The frequency data is extracted from the English Wikipedia corpus, and updated regularly. If you just care about the words' direct semantic similarity to boko haram, then there's probably no need for this.

There are already a bunch of websites on the net that help you find synonyms for various words, but only a handful that help you find related , or even loosely associated words. So although you might see some synonyms of boko haram in the list below, many of the words below will have other relationships with boko haram - you could see a word with the exact opposite meaning in the word list, for example. So it's the sort of list that would be useful for helping you build a boko haram vocabulary list, or just a general boko haram word list for whatever purpose, but it's not necessarily going to be useful if you're looking for words that mean the same thing as boko haram (though it still might be handy for that).

If you're looking for names related to boko haram (e.g. business names, or pet names), this page might help you come up with ideas. The results below obviously aren't all going to be applicable for the actual name of your pet/blog/startup/etc., but hopefully they get your mind working and help you see the links between various concepts. If your pet/blog/etc. has something to do with boko haram, then it's obviously a good idea to use concepts or words to do with boko haram.

If you don't find what you're looking for in the list below, or if there's some sort of bug and it's not displaying boko haram related words, please send me feedback using this page. Thanks for using the site - I hope it is useful to you! 🐿

show more

That's about all the boko haram related words we've got! I hope this list of boko haram terms was useful to you in some way or another. The words down here at the bottom of the list will be in some way associated with boko haram, but perhaps tenuously (if you've currenly got it sorted by relevance, that is). If you have any feedback for the site, please share it here , but please note this is only a hobby project, so I may not be able to make regular updates to the site. Have a nice day! 🐏


  1. Stalemate: Boko Haram’s new strategy means fewer attacks

    special assignment boko haram

  2. Chad and Niger troops attack Nigeria's Boko Haram extremists

    special assignment boko haram

  3. Boko Haram/ISWAP recruiting in Lake Chad region, says MNJTF

    special assignment boko haram

  4. Boko Haram and ISWAP: Still controls some part of Brono State and collects tax from residents

    special assignment boko haram

  5. Wanajeshi 92 Wauawa na BOKO Haram....

    special assignment boko haram

  6. Welcome to Icechuks Blog : Boko Haram: Military deploys special forces, equipment to Northeast

    special assignment boko haram


  1. Rah Rah

  2. एक दिन मुझे देख के मुस्कुराई vikas divyakirti sir #shorts #youtubeshorts #viral #drishtiias

  3. What can Mi-17 helicopters do?#shorts

  4. Punjab Inspector Arrest probe: STF team summoned SSP Moga

  5. Super Robot Wars A Portable [English]

  6. Boko Haram: Association Seeks Added Security At Schools


  1. Boko Haram's Deadly Impact

    Boko Haram's Deadly Impact. A new compilation of data gives insight into the African Islamist insurgency's reach, tactics, and evolution. It reveals a far higher victim count than previous ...

  2. Boko Haram

    On the heels of the military offensive, in June President Jonathan had officially declared Boko Haram a terrorist group and banned it under Nigerian law, which meant that group members and anyone caught aiding them would be prosecuted under the country's Terrorism Prevention Act.

  3. Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamist group?

    24 November 2016. AFP. Abubakar Shekau (centre) pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group but it later disowned him. Nigeria's militant Islamist group Boko Haram - which has caused havoc in ...

  4. PDF United States Institute of Peace Special Report

    The History of Boko Haram Boko Haram's origins lie in a group of radical Islamist youth who worshipped at the Alhaji Muhammadu Ndimi Mosque in Maiduguri a decade ago. In 2002, an offshoot of this youth group (not yet known as Boko Haram) declared the city and the Islamic establishment to be intolerably corrupt and irredeemable.

  5. Thousands of Boko Haram Members Surrendered. They Moved In Next Door

    Boko Haram is so shadowy that estimates of its size have ranged from as few as 1,500 fighters to what one high-level defector said was about 40,000 people, including fighters and their entourage ...

  6. Conflict with Boko Haram in Nigeria

    Read about Nigeria's ongoing battle with insurgent group Boko Haram and keep track of the latest developments using the Global Conflict Tracker from the Council on Foreign Relations.

  7. What Is Boko Haram?

    Boko Haram is an Islamic sect that believes politics in northern Nigeria has been seized by a group of corrupt, false Muslims. It wants to wage a war against them, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria generally, to create a "pure" Islamic state ruled by sharia law.

  8. Boko Haram

    The videos recorded by Boko Haram chronicle one attack on a Nigerian army barracks in the town of Banki. Fighters gather in the morning, and leaders prep them to kill and be killed. The assault turns into chaos, with some militants begging for a gun. VOA is funded in whole or in part by the American government.

  9. The Origins of Boko Haram—And Why It Matters

    The Boko Haram movement has killed a conservative estimate of 18,000 people, 1 displaced millions, and caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis. 2 In 2014, it was recorded as the world's deadliest terror group, killing 6,600 in that year alone. 3 Boko Haram is particularly notorious for its violence against children.

  10. Boko Haram, the...

    Boko Haram, the extremist Islamic group that wants to enforce Sharia Law across Nigeria, has inflicted mass casualties in northeast Nigeria. Some reports put the number of fatalities as high as...

  11. 'Mama Boko Haram': one woman's extraordinary mission to rescue 'her

    Over the years, Boko Haram had become notorious for kidnapping women and girls. The most infamous instance came in 2014, when its fighters captured 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in...

  12. Boko Haram shown killing civilian captives in video

    MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA—A new video from Nigeria's homegrown Boko Haram extremists shows gunmen mowing down civilians lying face down in a dorm, and a leader saying they are being killed because...

  13. Battle of Sambisa Forest (2021)

    In May 2021, the Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP) launched an invasion of the Sambisa Forest in Borno State, Nigeria, which served as main base of Boko Haram, a rival jihadist rebel group. Following heavy fighting, ISWAP overran the Boko Haram troops, cornering their leader Abubakar Shekau.The two sides entered negotiations about Boko Haram's surrender during which Shekau committed ...

  14. Boko Haram insurgency

    The Boko Haram insurgency began in July 2009, when the militant Islamist and jihadist rebel group Boko Haram started an armed rebellion against the government of Nigeria. The conflict is taking place within the context of long-standing issues of religious violence between Nigeria's Muslim and Christian communities, and the insurgents' ultimate aim is to establish an Islamic state in the region.

  15. Chad's Escalating Fight against Boko Haram

    The January 2015 massacre of roughly 2,000 civilians at Baga Kawa, Nigeria (sometimes referred to only as Baga), an important trading hub and port on Lake Chad, prompted the mobilization of more than 1,000 Chadian soldiers into Nigeria to push Boko Haram out of its strongholds in Borno State, Nigeria.

  16. Nigeria's Boko Haram: Who Are They and What Do They Want?

    Boko Haram—which means Western learning is forbidden —is a Nigerian Islamist militant group made up of dispersed cells and factions in the northeast of the country. It began with a group of...

  17. The War Against Boko Haram (Full Length)

    The War Against Boko Haram (Full Length) - YouTube 0:00 / 29:53 Sign in to confirm your age This video may be inappropriate for some users. Sign in The War Against Boko Haram (Full Length)...

  18. Background Briefing: What Is Boko Haram?

    World Feb 25, 2014 11:44 AM EST. Suspected members of the hardline Islamist group Boko Haram attacked a school in Damaturu, Nigeria, early Tuesday morning, burning or shooting 29 boys, but sparing ...

  19. Boko Haram Crisis

    A violent insurgency, a prolonged humanitarian crisis Boko Haram, a violent Islamist insurgency, has terrorized communities around West Africa's Lake Chad Basin for years — creating new hardships and compounding existing ones for millions of people in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, many of them still displaced and struggling to survive. Children have been abducted, killed and ...

  20. Situation in West Africa, Sahel 'Extremely Volatile' as Terrorists

    The Russian Federation's representative shared concerns over terrorist activity, inter-ethnic and intercommunal conflict, drug trafficking and organized crime across West Africa. He expressed concern that Boko Haram has become more active in the Lake Chad Basin, calling COVID-19 "extremely dangerous" for regional security.

  21. Boko Haram, explained in 3 minutes

    The Islamist group Boko Haram has been launching increasingly frequent and deadly attacks in northern Nigeria over the past year, and has recently expanded into Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Over 1 ...

  22. Boko Haram Words

    Below is a massive list of boko haram words - that is, words related to boko haram. The top 4 are: maiduguri, abubakar shekau, chad and niger. You can get the definition(s) of a word in the list below by tapping the question-mark icon next to it. The words at the top of the list are the ones most associated with boko haram, and as you go down ...