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Boko Haram: Strengths and Weaknesses

By Alessia Bossi, Assistant Researcher at Talking About Terrorism.
Niger military operation kills 75 Boko Haram terrorists, May 2020

1. Overview: Boko Haram is a Nigeria-based group whose aim is to overthrow the current Nigerian Government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law. It was formed in 2002 by Muhammed Yusuf in northeastern Nigeria, and from 2009, it has carried out assassinations and large-scale acts of violence in that State which position occupies the deadliest terrorist group's list.

2. Areas of operation: Boko Haram is mainly concentrated in Nigeria, although the group has operated in the four Lake Chad countries (Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon).

3. Number of members and leadership: Abubakar Shekau is the current leader of the sectarian group. Boko Haram uses voluntary and coercive strategies for recruitment. At the moment, it is estimated that the group has at least 15,000 members.

4. Impact of the group: The group has had a strong federal impact on the government of Nigeria, which has responded against the attacks of Boko Haram. Federal agencies, such as the Nigerian National Assembly and the Department of State Services, have played an important role in the fight against domestic terrorism.

5. Strengths: One of the main strengths is the maintenance of resource flows through robberies and extortion. The group has also demonstrated a superior fighting technique and a great capacity in infiltration through the security services.

6. Weaknesses: The group is dependent on local resources and conscription, which represents a potential vulnerability. Another weakness of Boko Haram is the difficulty of controlling a wide territory, which makes them more exposed to counter-attacks by military forces.

7. Trend over the years: They have mainly employed suicide bombings during the years because of its efficacy and the low financial and human capital cost. Boko Haram has claimed 2,283 total suicide bombing-related deaths, mainly on government targets and schools. The group has also kidnapped hundreds of people in the last ten years and negotiations with the Nigerian government have been unsuccessful for both parties.

8. Future of the group: Because of the high dependence on local resources, the affected states could implement some more severe measures in order to limit their capacity for recruitment and their financial resources. Otherwise, the group is expected to expand and carry out many other attacks in the name of Allah.

9. Important fact: In the local Hausa dialect “Boko Haram” means “Western Education is Forbidden”. This slogan has led to various attacks destroying schools and kidnapping hundreds of female students to sell them in the market.

10. Kidnappings: On 15 April 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped by Boko Haram in the secondary school of Chibok in Nigeria. This action had a great impact on the community, which has strongly criticized the government for not doing enough in finding the students still missing. To date, about a hundred girls are nowhere to be found.


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