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Friday, 6 February 2015

Who are the Boko Haram?

Many of you would have heard about the Boko Haram; a terrorist group located in Northern Nigeria. However most of their actions for one reason or another has been overlooked by the rest of the world. However what exactly is this organisation? Information for this post comes from Al Jazeera, the BBC and CNN.

Who are the Boko Haram?- The name of the group isn't actually Boko Haram; this is the local name of the group but has been adopted by international organisations to refer to the group. Their official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'Awati Wal-Jihad, (translated as 'People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for Propagation and Jihad), and their de facto name Boko Haram translating to 'Western Education is Forbidden'. Their name shows an obvious antagonism towards the Western style of teaching to favor instead a fundamentalist, Islam style of education. We can also learn more about them from their logo.
In the center there is an open Qur'an indicating that they are Muslim and possibly even proselytizers with a black standard with the shahada, (the Muslim declaration of faith), saying the shahada in Arabic: 'There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah'. Used in this way the shahada is often associated with Wahhabism so this shows us more about their religious beliefs. Finally we have two crossed Kalashnikov rifles indicating their violent tendencies. From this we can gather that they wish to promote fundamentalist Islamic teachings as well as to oppose Western teaching styles.

The origin of the Boko Haram- The origin of the group lies in the turbulent past of Nigeria. Ethnic and religious violence had rocked the country in the past and the end of military rule helped some more violent groups emerged where previously they would have been suppressed. Through social inequalities academics from the northern states had gained influence with the youth being attracted to the more extremist clerics in the north who offered an alternate government system to the corrupt one in power. Thus in 2002 comes Mohammed Yusuf, pictured below.
Yusuf founded the group in the capital city of the Borno state, Maiduguri, where his extremist ideology attracted many young people who had become angry at the social inequality in Nigeria. The Nigerian government largely dismissed the growing power of the group despite Yusuf's growing militancy despite the fact he wanted to establish his own Sharia law in Nigeria. This ended in 2009 when clashes happened between the police and Boko Haram happened resulting in Yusuf being arrested and dying in custody. His deputy however managed to escape and he now currently leads Boko Haram. The group's current leader is Abubakar Shekau.
The group now- Shekau made the group militant and that brings us here today. Boko Haram started mass kidnappings, executions and bombings which caused a state of emergency to be declared in 2012. The group has claimed many innocent lives with in 2013 they killed up 200 civilians in the town of Baga before returning on the 3rd January, 2015 to mercilessly murder 2000 people, even using rocket-propelled grenades to do this. They have targeted civilians with a combination of psychopathy and sadism with in the January of 2015 alone they had razed 16 villages to the ground as well as bombing mosques, markets, football matches and elections in 2014 with each attack claiming as much as 40 innocent lives each. In 2013 alone they murdered 10,000 people which is more than all the casualties in the Ukrainian conflict. What shows their depravity even more though is their use of children and their targeting of schools. In the first half of 2014 they targeted 50 schools killing over 100 children and 70 teachers. In one attack they sewed a bomb into a teenagers rucksack and dressed the bomber into an assembly in school uniform claiming a minimum of 48 lives. Twice in January 2015 they used two innocent ten year old girls as suicide bombers, (where people believe they were not even aware of carrying bombs). Hundreds of human rights abuse have came through with non-Muslims and any Muslims who do not follow the groups view being subjected to decapitation and petty criminal having their hands cut off. Women suffer more with young girls either being used as bait for soldiers or are sold as sex slaves. We all remember in 2014 when the group kidnapped over 200 girls from a school and what is scary is that we have not found them all.

How influential are they?- The Boko Haram has managed to declare a caliphate. The group rules over 50,000 square kilometers, or 20,000 square miles, which to put into perspective ISIS currently controls 32,133 square kilometers or 12,407 square miles. No official group has recognized the Boko Haram's claim of forming a caliphate, (and non will), but it is still as terrifying thing. They are also expanding rapidly outside Nigeria with them attacking Cameroon and merely a few hours before this was posted they attacked a border town in Niger. They have caused up to 1.5 million people to flee because of their growing power. They are also well funded. Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab have been funding the group. Unfortunately this is not the only way they are getting funds. They often make millions by kidnapping foreigners and Nigerian officials with them at one point abducting the wife of Cameroon's Vice-President although she has been returned despite the Cameroon government saying that they never paid a ransom, (something highly doubtful considering the group's reputation). They also profit greatly from kidnapping innocent women and young girls to sell as sex slaves and with reports from some of the girls from the 200 who were kidnapped who managed to escape it is likely that they have sold the others in the slave trade. This both shows their depravity and that the slave trade has not died.
How did they get so powerful?- A major reason why the Boko Haram became so powerful was the ineptitude of the Nigerian government. The President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan has been known to deliberately downplay the numbers of people killed by Boko Haram to make the group seem less of a threat. When the 200 girls were kidnapped he spent 18 days covering it up by claiming it was made up to stop him from getting re-elected which delayed the search for them. There were also reports that in the October of 2014 the ceasefire he negotiated was with the wrong terrorists and some have said that he made the deal up to boost poll ratings for him. The group has even managed to infiltrate the Nigerian government with corrupt officials letting helicopters going through checkpoints and Jonathan himself stated in 2012:
Some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some are even in the judiciary, some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies.
The military have also inflamed the situation with Amnesty International reporting frequent electrocuting, rape and torture during the fight. Summary executions, shooting protesters and corruption has made 90% of the population distrust the army and convince some to join the group. Finally the media also has given the group much less attention compared to ISIS with Al Jazeera and the Israeli paper Haaretz only reporting it's actions fully. When ISIS captured Mosul and fought in the streets of Kobane emergency meetings were held and air strikes started. When Boko Haram took Baga and solidified their new 'caliphate' it was ignored by most media. Although timing also helped as when the Baga massacre took place the Charlie Hebdo attacks happened. Also most of the world has been looking at or sending troops to Iraq since 2004 whereas Nigeria had relative peace so naturally the press would focus on this area of the world where the US and coalition forces have had such a major presence. Nevertheless the lack of press attention made the Catholic Archbishop of Jos criticize the media saying:
I can smell a lot more trouble. It's not going to be confined to this region. It's going to expand. It will go to Europe and elsewhere.
Recently the UK, France, Israel and Canada have pledged support with the UK sending trainers and aid to Nigeria while the French have sent 3,000 troops for counter-terrorism. China has also offered satellite data and military equipment, (in recent years China has been investing in African countries). Niger, Cameroon and Chad have also started to fight the group with Chad a few days ago routing Boko Haram forces near the border.

What will happen in the future with the group is uncertain. However the fanaticism of the group has made the world worried and its ever growing strength could mean that northern Nigeria could be the center of world terrorism instead of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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