A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Boko Haram Narrative


Boko Haram

Last Update

March 2015

Aliases

Jamaatu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, Yusufiyya, People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, Nigerian Taliban

History

Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri, Borno State, in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, who preached a philosophy of withdrawal from what he viewed as a corrupt and un-Islamic society. [1] Prior to 2009, the group largely nonviolent, but it did engage in several attacks on Nigerian security forces.[2] In 2003, Boko Haram established a small settlement near the border of Niger called “Afghanistan.” Local officials denounced the settlement and called for it to be disbanded.[3] Eventually tensions led Boko Haram to assault the homes of local officials and police, to which the Nigerian security forces retaliated, killing several Boko Haram members and destroying “Afghanistan.”[4] Despite frequent arrests of Yusuf, Boko Haram and the Nigerian government maintained an uneasy truce for the next five years.[5]

In 2009, after a battle between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces, Yusuf was captured and extrajudicially executed while in custody.[6] The group was inactive until July 2010 when the former second-in-command of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, released a video assuming leadership as well as promising attacks.[7] The threat was acted upon when Boko Haram conducted several suicide bombings and assassinations around the country as well as carrying out a prison break in Bauchi, which freed close to 700 inmates.[8] On August 26, 2011 Boko Haram detonated a car-bomb at the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, killing 23 people.[9] Coordinated bomb and gun attacks in Kano in January 2012 killed at least 180 people, Boko Haram’s deadliest single-day assault.[10] The influence of Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb on Boko Haram also reportedly increased over this time period, with some analysts attributing the increased sophistication of Boko Haram attacks to this relationship. The increased intensity of attacks prompted the Nigerian government in May 2013 to declare a state of emergency in three states, Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, as well as establish a Joint Task Force (JTF) effort to push Boko Haram out of cities.[11]

Boko Haram gained more international notoriety in 2014 when the group kidnapped over 200 Chibok schoolgirls for various purposes, such as prisoner exchanges and to sell them into marriage.[12] Beginning in the late spring and summer of 2014, Boko Haram began seizing villages in towns in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states.[13] As of January 2015, Boko Haram controlled multiple towns and villages, primarily in Borno and Adamawa states, with up to 20,000 square miles of territory under its control.[14] However, offensives by the Nigerian, Chadian, Nigerien, and Cameroonian militaries reclaimed some of this territory.[15] In March 2015, Shekau announced that Boko Haram was pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with reports that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had accepted the pledge.[16]

Home Base

Nigeria

Founding Year

2002[17]

Ideology

Religious-Islamist-Salafist-Jihadist.[18]

Specific Goals

  • Removal of traditional political and religious leaders[19]
  • Establishment of Islamic government with strict and Salafist interpretation of sharia in Nigeria[20]

Political Activity

None.[21]

Financing

  • Funded by Another Violent Group: Boko Haram is reported to have received funding from Al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM).[22]
  • Kidnapping and Robbery: Boko Haram also engages in kidnapping for ransom and bank robberies.[23]
  • Extortion: Boko Haram uses roadblocks to extort civilians and also reportedly extorts wealthy individuals using threatening text messages and telephone calls.[24]

Leadership and Structure over Time

  • Shekau is supported by a Shura Council, although he also makes some decisions without their inputs.[25]
  • 2002-2009: Mohammed Yusuf: Founder and leader, killed in police custody. [26]
  • July 2010-Present: Abubakar Shekau.[27] Nigerian and Cameroonian authorities, as well as some analysts, have reported that Shekau has been killed and is being impersonated by doubles.[28]

Strength

  • 2012: Several hundred[29] to several thousand[30]
  • 2014: 3,000[31] to 20,000[32]

Allies and Suspected Allies

  • Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
    • AQIM has aided Boko Haram financially.[33] In April 2012, Boko Haram and AQIM supported Ansar al-Din along with the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) as they rebelled against the Malian government to establish what they call the Islamic State of Azawad, a region of Northern Mali.[34]
  • Al Shabaab
    • Cooperation between Al Shabaab and Boko Haram has been widely documented.[35] In 2011, Boko Haram publically boasted about the training its members received in Al Shabaab training camps in Somalia.[36]
  • Al-Qa’ida (suspected ally)
    • Shekau has at times declared support for Al-Qa’ida and the groups are suspected of collaborating although the full extent of their relationship isn’t clear.[37]
  • Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)
    • In 2012 and 2013 it was reported that Boko Haram joined with MUJAO in their insurrection in Mali and witnesses have claimed that Boko Haram is training with the group.[38]
  • Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant:
    • In March 2015, Shekau announced that Boko Haram was pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with reports that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had accepted the pledge.[39]

Rivals and Enemies

  • The Nigerian Government (target, enemy)
    • One of Boko Haram's central goals is to replace the current Nigerian government with a Salafist Islamic regime.[40]
    • Between 1998 and 2012, over 40 percent of Boko Haram attacks have been against Nigerian government, military or police targets.[41]
  • Governments of Cameroon, Niger, and Chad (target, enemy)
    • Since the governments of Cameroon, Niger, and Chad partnered with the Nigerian government to deploy military forces against Boko Haram, the group has launched additional attacks in these territories and threatened to carry out more.[42]
  • Ansaru (Jama'atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan) (violence between groups)
    • Ansaru splintered from Boko Haram in January 2012, due to disagreements over ideology and tactics, specifically the targeting of innocent Nigerians.[43]

Counterterrorism Efforts

  • Domestic Political:
    • Sporadic attempts by the Nigerian government to engage in talks with Boko Haram have failed.[44]
  • Domestic Law Enforcement:
    • Initially, most Nigerian efforts against Boko Haram were carried out by law enforcement. [45]
  • Domestic Military
    • The Nigerian has deployed military forces to deal with Boko Haram, but efforts have been largely ineffective.[46]
  • International Law Enforcement
    • Neighboring countries have arrested suspected Boko Haram members.[47]
  • International Military
    • Cameroon, Niger and Chad have also deployed troops against Boko Haram.[48]

United States Government Designations

  • Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), November 13, 2013[49]

Other Governments’ Designations

  • Australia (June 2014): Listed Terrorist Organization[50]
  • Canada (December 2013): Listed Terrorist Entity[51]
  • Nigeria (June 2013): Proscribed Terrorist Organization[52]
  • European Union (June 2014): Listed Terrorist Organization[53]
  • Turkey (June 2014): Listed Terrorist Organization[54]
  • United Arab Emirates (November 2014): Listed Terrorist Organization[55]
  • United Kingdom (July 2013): Proscribed Terrorist Organization[56]
  • United Nations (May 2014): Security Council’s Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee designation[57]
 

[1] Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[2] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.

[3] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.

[4] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.; Benjamin Maiangwa and Ufo Okeke Uzodike, “The Changing Dynamics of Boko Haram Terrorism” (Al Jazeera Center for Studies, July 31, 2012), http://studies.aljazeera.net/ResourceGallery/media/Documents/2012/7/31/20127316843815734The%20Changing%20Dynamics%20of%20Boko%20Haram%20Terrorism.pdf.

[5] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.

[6] Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[7] NCTC, “Boko Haram,” National Counterterrorism Center, Counterterrorism Guide, (2014), http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/boko_haram.html.

[8] Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[9] NCTC, “Boko Haram,” National Counterterrorism Center, Counterterrorism Guide, (2014), http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/boko_haram.html.

[10] Mike Oboh, “Islamist Insurgents Kill over 178 in Nigeria’s Kano,” Reuters, January 22, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/22/us-nigeria-violence-idUSTRE80L0A020120122; Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739; Gérard Chouin, Manuel Reinert, and Elodie Apard, “Body Count and Religion in the Boko Haram Crisis: Evidence from the Nigeria Watch Database,” Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria, 2014, 213, http://www.ifra-nigeria.org/IMG/pdf/boko-haram-islamism-politics-security-nigeria.pdf#page=223.

[11] Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[12] Aminu Abubakar, “Boko Haram Engaged in Talks over Kidnapped Girls,” CNN, September 20, 2014, sec. World, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/20/world/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-kidnapped-girls/index.html; Bill Chappell, “Boko Haram Says Kidnapped Girls Are Now ‘Married,’” NPR.org, November 1, 2014, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/11/01/360629727/boko-haram-says-kidnapped-girls-are-now-married.

[13] Daniel Solomon, “Boko Haram’s Predatory State within a Predatory State,” Al Jazeera, September 11, 2014, sec. Opinion, http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/9/boko-haram-nigeriacorruptionislamicgovernance.html.

[14] David Blair, “Boko Haram Is Now a Mini-Islamic State, with Its Own Territory,” The Telegraph, January 10, 2015, sec. World, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/11337722/Boko-Haram-is-now-a-mini-Islamic-State-with-its-own-territory.html; “Boko Haram Seizes Army Base in Nigeria Town of Baga,” BBC News, January 4, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30672391.

[15] Aminu Abubakar, “Chad, Niger Launch Ground and Air Offensive against Boko Haram,” March 9, 2015, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/08/intl_world/boko-haram-chad-niger-offensive/; “Cameroon Army Kills 86 Boko Haram Militants as Nigeria Recaptures Two Towns,” February 17, 2015, Times Live, http://www.timeslive.co.za/africa/2015/02/17/cameroon-army-kills-86-boko-haram-militants-as-nigeria-recaptures-two-towns.

[16] Hamdi Alkhshali and Steve Almasy, “ISIS Leader Purpotedly Accepts Boko Harm’s Pledge of Allegiance,” March 12, 2015, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/middleeast/isis-boko-haram/.

[17] Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[18] Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[19] Rafiu Oriyomi, “Nigeria’s Boko Haram (Profile),” On Islam, December 26, 2011, http://www.onislam.net/english/news/africa/455146-nigerias-boko-haram-profile.html; Andrew Walker, “What Is Boko Haram?,” Special Report, United States Institute of Peace, (May 30, 2012), http://www.usip.org/publications/what-boko-haram.

[20]Daniel Solomon, “Boko Haram’s Predatory State within a Predatory State,” Al Jazeera, September 11, 2014, sec. Opinion, http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/9/boko-haram-nigeriacorruptionislamicgovernance.html; Andrew Walker, “What Is Boko Haram?,” Special Report, United States Institute of Peace, (May 30, 2012), http://www.usip.org/publications/what-boko-haram.

[21] “Spiraling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria,” Human Rights Watch, October 11, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/10/11/spiraling-violence/boko-haram-attacks-and-security-force-abuses-nigeria.

[22] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.

[23] John Campbell, “Why Are Boko Haram Fighters Successful?,” Africa in Transition, March 4, 2104, http://blogs.cfr.org/campbell/2014/03/04/nigeria-why-are-boko-haram-fighters-successful/.

[24] ICG, “Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency,” Africa Report (Brussels, BEL: International Crisis Group, April 3, 2014), http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.pdf.

[25] Sunny Nwankwo, “Nigeria: JTF Declares 19 Boko Haram Commanders Wanted,” allAfrica, November 24, 2012, http://allafrica.com/stories/201211250093.html.

[26] “Profile: Boko Haram,” Al Jazeera, January 18, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/01/20121974241393331.html.

[27] NCTC, “Boko Haram,” National Counterterrorism Center, Counterterrorism Guide, (2014), http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/boko_haram.html.

[28] Adam Taylor, “‘Dead’ Boko Haram Leader Tells Nigeria: ‘I’m Still Alive’,” The Washington Post, October 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/10/02/dead-boko-haram-leader-tells-nigeria-im-still-alive/.

[29] Julian Pecquet, “Obama Administration Pressed to Do More on Boko Haram Terror Designations,” The Hill, June 21, 2012, http://thehill.com/policy/international/234193-obama-administration-pressed-to-do-more-on-boko-haram-terror-designations-.

[30] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.

[31] Jennifer Giroux and Raymond Gilpin, “#NigeriaOnTheEdge,” Policy Perspectives, May 2014, http://www.css.ethz.ch/publications/pdfs/PP_05_05_2014.pdf.

[32] Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram: Recruitment, Financing, and Arms Trafficking in the Lake Chad Region,” CTC Sentinel 7, no. 10 (October 2014): 5–10, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/v2/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/CTCSentinel-Vol7Iss102.pdf.

[33] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.

[34] “Boko Haram,” The World Almanac of Islamism (Washington, DC: American Foreign Policy Council, August 13, 2014), http://almanac.afpc.org/sites/almanac.afpc.org/files/Boko%20Haram%20August%202014_0.pdf.

[35] David Adams and Ufiem Maurice Ogbonnaya, “Ethnic and Regional Violence in Nigeria: Implications for National Security,” Journal of Politics and Law 7, no. 3 (2014): 20–34, http://ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/jpl/article/view/39770.

[36] Freedom Onuoha, “Boko Haram and the Evolving Salafi Jihadist Threat in Nigeria,” Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria, 2014, 158, http://www.ifra-nigeria.org/IMG/pdf/boko-haram-islamism-politics-security-nigeria.pdf.

[37] Carla Humud, Alexis Arieff, Lauren Blanchard, Chistopher Blanchard, Jeremy Sharp and Kenneth Katzman, "Al Qaeda-Affiliated Groups: Middle East and Africa," Congressional Research Service, October 10, 2014; Seth Jones, Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of Al Qa'ida since 9/11. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012)

[38] Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram’s International Connections,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, January 14, 2013. https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-harams-international-connections

[39] Hamdi Alkhshali and Steve Almasy, “ISIS Leader Purpotedly Accepts Boko Harm’s Pledge of Allegiance,” March 12, 2015, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/middleeast/isis-boko-haram/.

[40] NCTC, “Boko Haram,” National Counterterrorism Center, Counterterrorism Guide, (2014), http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/boko_haram.html.

[41] START, “Global Terrorism Database [Data File],” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 2013, http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/.

[42] “Boko Haram Launches Twin Attacks in Niger and Cameroon,” February 9, 2015, Al-Jazeera America, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/2/9/boko-haram-launches-twin-attacks-in-niger-and-cameroon.html.

[43] Farouk Chothia, “Profile: Who Are Nigeria’s Ansaru Islamists?,” BBC News, March 11, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-21510767; Gérard Chouin, Manuel Reinert, and Elodie Apard, “Body Count and Religion in the Boko Haram Crisis: Evidence from the Nigeria Watch Database,” Islamism, Politics, Security and the State in Nigeria, 2014, 213, http://www.ifra-nigeria.org/IMG/pdf/boko-haram-islamism-politics-security-nigeria.pdf#page=223.

[44] “Analysis: Hurdles to Nigerian Government-Boko Haram Dialogue,” IRINnews, November 29, 2012, http://www.irinnews.org/report/96915/analysis-hurdles-to-nigerian-government-boko-haram-dialogue;“Nigeria Panel Seeks Talks with Boko Haram,” Al Jazeera, July 31, 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2011/07/2011731145755671650.html.

[45] Nima Elbagir, “Source: Nigeria Police Arrest Militant Group’s Spokesman,” CNN, February 2, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/01/world/africa/nigeria-violence/; “Nigeria Arrests Dozens of Boko Haram Suspects in Kano,” BBC News, January 24, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-16710086; Nigeria Detains Boko Haram Suspects,” Al-Jazeera, December 31, 2010, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2010/12/20101231134433384915.html; “Profile: Boko Haram,” Al Jazeera, January 18, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/01/20121974241393331.html.

[46] Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, (March 5, 2015), http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[47] Aminu Abubakar and Greg Botelho, “Niger Police Arrest 160 Suspected Boko Haram Militant,” CNN, February 17, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/17/africa/boko-haram/.

[48] Aminu Abubakar, “Chad, Niger Launch Ground and Air Offensive against Boko Haram,” March 9, 2015, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/08/intl_world/boko-haram-chad-niger-offensive/; Moki Edwin Kindeza, “Cameroon, Chad Deploy Troops to Fight Boko Haram,” VOA, May 26, 2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/cameroon-chad-deploy-troops-to-fight-boko-haram/1922622.html.

[49] US Department of State, “Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram and Ansaru,” Media Note, US Department of State, (November 13, 2013), http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/11/217509.htm#.UoOamr6s8zA.twitter.

[50] Attorney-General, Australia, “Listed Terrorist Organisations,” Australian National Security, September 13, 2013, http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/default.aspx.

[51] Public Safety Canada, “Currently Listed Entities,” Listed Terrorist Entities, March 4, 2014, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx.

[52] Rafiu Ajakaye, “Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Mysterious Terror Group,” TurkishPress, March 6, 2014, http://www.turkishpress.com/news/393594/; Kimeng Hilton Ndukon, “Government Proscribes Boko Haram, Ansaru in Nigeria,” Cameroon Tribune, June 9, 2013, https://cameroon-tribune.cm/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=74203:government-proscribes-boko-haram-ansaru-in-nigeria&catid=39:politique&Itemid=5.

[53] “The EU Lists Boko Haram as a Terrorist Organisation” (European Union External Action Service, June 2, 2014), http://www.eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140605_01_en.pdf.

[54] “Turkey Lists Boko Haram as Terrorist Organization,” Hurriyet Daily News, June 10, 2014, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-lists-boko-haram-as-terrorist-organization.aspx?pageID=238&nID=67603&NewsCatID=510.

[55] “UAE Publishes List of Terrorist Organisations,” Gulf News Government, November 15, 2014, sec. Government, http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/government/uae-publishes-list-of-terrorist-organisations-1.1412895.

[56] Home Office, United Kingdom, “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations” (London, March 27, 2015), https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417888/Proscription-20150327.pdf.

[57] UN Security Council, “Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Adds Boko Haram to Its Sanctions List,” Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, May 22, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11410.doc.htm.