Boko Haram – A Force to be Reckoned With?

The militant Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram has gained infamy throughout the world after its atrocious kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014. Of course, this wasn’t the first of the group’s crimes. Founded in 2002 by Muhammed Yusuf, the original purpose of Boko Haram was to abolish the spread of Western education; not necessarily through violence and aggression. After several years of spreading its beliefs, the group eventually began committing terrorist acts to try and further its cause. Its first large attacks were in 2009, mainly directed toward police stations and government buildings in Maiduguri, a city in northeastern Nigeria. The Nigerian army was able to fight back against the militants rather successfully. Many believed the group would dissolve after the death of Yusuf and many of his supporters with this defeat. However, this was not the case. Abubakar Shekau rose as the new leader of Boko Haram, and ever since has spawned multiple increasingly violent attacks against Nigeria and countries surrounding it, causing the deaths of over 6,000 people. This represents a casualty figure even higher than that of ISIS.

Boko Haram began appearing in the news more and more frequently after its notorious kidnapping of the Chibok girls. The incident spawned anger internationally, and allowed the group to recruit more supporters into its ranks with the publicity. Many of the kidnapped girls were converted to Islam and married off to members of the group, in addition to being used as bargaining chips to exchange for imprisoned fighters. There have been many successful counter-attacks aimed toward the militant group by the Nigerian military. Boko Haram had grown extremely powerful and almost unstoppable as it expanded its authority into other countries besides Nigeria, but the Nigerian government began launching its own counter-attacks to weaken the group in January of 2015, sending over 8,700 troops to fight against the group. Most of these measures proved useful and after several months, Boko Haram was driven into the Sambisa Nature Reserve. In the spring of 2015, almost 700 people were freed by the Nigerian army from capture inside the forest. In October of 2016, 21 of the girls were released from imprisonment in the Sambisa forest. According to those girls who were freed, many Boko Haram members were lacking in guns, ammunition, and transportation. They also were allegedly speaking about abandoning the group and their distaste for the current leader Shekau, according to a statement made by one of the freed girls, Amina Ali Nkeki.

Boko Haram allegedly pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State in early 2015. The pledge was accepted by Nigerian ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was believed that the allegiance to the Islamic State would provide more legitimacy for Boko Haram and allow its message to be spread. They looked to gain more supporters who would be unable to join the fighting in Syria or Iraq and make use of social medias to help mesh with other Jihadi groups. These things did prove to work for Boko Haram for a time, but the new leader of the Nigerian ISIS faction,  Abu Musab Al-Barnawi and Shekau became rivals. Shekau also began to be known for indiscreetly making decisions and not making use of the internet and social media to spread Boko Haram’s message. Shekau’s authority is still a mystery, allegedly Al-Barnawi broke off from Boko Haram and took some of Shekau’s followers with him. This caused Boko Haram to split into two separate groups, one led by Al-Barnawi and the other by Shekau. Shekau still has command over those kidnapped in the Sambisa forest and his remaining followers, but it is believed that his group is growing steadily weaker. Boko Haram, which was once believed to be a rising threat among other terrorist groups, has now been reduced to only a small area of Nigeria. Its command no longer is as menacing as it once was.

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