Boko Haram: What you need to know

By Cat Cronin, Researcher at Talking About Terrorism.


Aerial View from Lagos, Nigeria.

1. Boko Haram officially emerged in 2002 in Nigeria’s northern Borno State. The name originates from a local Hausa dialect and translates to “Western education is forbidden.” The group is firmly against Western influence and education in Nigeria, as it is concerned that “quality education leads to freedom.”


2. Since 2011, Boko Haram has been responsible for 37,500 deaths and 2.4 million displaced people. The group’s violence peaked in 2014-2015, and it was declared the world’s deadliest terror group (with 6,700 deaths attributed to the group in 2014).


3. Boko Haram used to be allied with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but has been tied to ISIS since 2015. The changing of alliances caused factions to form within Boko Haram, which caused small groups to break off, including the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP).


4. The group’s first attack was in December 2003. Despite its violent activities, Boko Haram was not added to the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations until November 2013.


5. 2009 was a turning point for Boko Haram. That year, the Nigerian government started an investigation against the group and arrested several members in Bauchi. In response, Boko Haram launched a campaign against Nigerian security forces, in a clash that led to the deaths of 700 people. After 2009, Boko Haram began to execute more violent attacks against police, UN offices, and civilians. The 2009 insurgency led the group to expand into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.


6. There is a strong correlation between climate change and Boko Haram recruitment, particularly in the Lake Chad basin. As author Lukas Rüttinger explains, “Climate change changes the context in which these groups operate – it contributes to creating the conditions in which those groups can thrive.” As the area around Lake Chad deteriorates, Boko Haram has been active in recruiting to an increasingly desperate population. The group offers small loans and promises larger rewards to potential recruits.


7. In 2014, Boko Haram shocked the world when it kidnapped 276 teenage girls. The group has continued to engage in kidnappings, along with shootings, bombings, and beheadings.


8. A few of Boko Haram’s most significant activities were the 2011 attack on the UN in Abuja, the 2015 massacre of almost 2,000 civilians in Baga, and the 2018 attack on a military base which killed over 100 soldiers. Most recently (on Monday, June 17th), Boko Haram killed 30 people and injured over 40 in a triple suicide bombing in Konduga.

9. Originally, Boko Haram received funding from Osama bin Laden. In more recent years, the organization has financed itself through kidnapping, bank robberies, and donations from wealthy individuals and state-sponsors of terrorism.


10. The international community has had mixed responses to countering Boko Haram. The U.S. sent personnel to train Nigerian troops and used aircrafts to look for the kidnapped victims. Nigerian vigilantes created the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) to physically fight the terrorist organization in the country. However, a slow response by the international community and a lack of cooperation by the Nigerian government and the broader regional area has permitted Boko Haram to continue to thrive.

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© 2017 by Talking About Terrorism.