The Washington Post reports: Two years ago Thursday, just before midnight on a sweltering night in a town in northeastern Nigeria, men carrying AK-47s stormed into the Chibok Government Secondary School.
What happened next would bring global attention to the Islamist group Boko Haram, which had been haunting Nigeria for years. It would unite activists around the world, including first lady Michelle Obama, around the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. It would prompt the United States to dispatch surveillance drones and military trainers to West Africa.
The militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls. Several dozen of them were able to escape. But two years later, even as the Nigerian, Cameroonian and Chadian militaries have pushed Boko Haram out of many of its former strongholds, 219 of the girls remain missing.
On Wednesday, CNN released an apparent proof of life video of fifteen of the girls, reportedly filmed last December. They wore flowing headscarves and stated their names. “We are all well,” one of them said.
It was a rare window into their condition, but it raised as many questions it answered. The video alluded to a possible negotiation with the Nigerian government, but those details remain unclear. And many Nigerians wondered why it took so long for even the parents of the girls to see a video confirming they were still alive. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The fighters had just completed “training for a large-scale attack” against American and African Union forces, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
Pentagon officials would not say how they knew that the Shabab fighters killed on Saturday were training for an attack on United States and African Union forces, but the militant group is believed to be under heavy American surveillance.
The Shabab fighters were standing in formation at a facility the Pentagon called Camp Raso, 120 miles north of Mogadishu, when the American warplanes struck on Saturday, officials said, acting on information gleaned from intelligence sources in the area and from American spy planes. One intelligence agency assessed that the toll might have been higher had the strike happened earlier in the ceremony. Apparently, some fighters were filtering away from the event when the bombing began.
The strike was another escalation in what has become the latest battleground in the Obama administration’s war against terror: Africa. The United States and its allies are focused on combating the spread of the Islamic State in Libya, and American officials estimate that with an influx of men from Iraq, Syria and Tunisia, the Islamic State’s forces in Libya have swelled to as many as 6,500 fighters, allowing the group to capture a 150-mile stretch of coastline over the past year.
The arrival of the Islamic State in Libya has sparked fears that the group’s reach could spread to other North African countries, and the United States is increasingly trying to prevent that. American forces are now helping to combat Al Qaeda in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad; and the Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, in what has become a multifront war against militant Islam in Africa. [Continue reading…]
On Christmas Eve 2015 the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, was publicly confident that his country had “technically won the war” against the Islamist group Boko Haram. Less than two months into 2016, and the group is still wreaking havoc across northern Nigeria and beyond.
Since the beginning of the year, the group has killed more than 100 people and continued to drive many more from their homes as they flee for their safety. Its most recent atrocity was the February 10 suicide attack on a refugee camp near Maiduguri that killed 58 people.
From any reasonable angle, the situation hardly looks resolved. According to UN assistant secretary general and regional humanitarian co-ordinator for the Sahel, Toby Lanzer, Boko Haram has become the deadliest terrorist group in the world. As of the beginning of 2016, 2.8m people living in the Lake Chad region have been displaced, including more than a million children; a million children are out of school, and hundreds of thousands are at risk of starving to death.
The Associated Press reports: A survivor hidden in a tree says he watched Boko Haram extremists firebomb huts and heard the screams of children among people burned to death in the latest attack by Nigeria’s homegrown Islamic extremists.
Scores of charred corpses and bodies with bullet wounds littered the streets from Saturday night’s attack on Dalori village just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the biggest city in the northeast, according to survivors and soldiers.
The shooting and burning continued for four hours, survivor Alamin Bakura said, weeping on a telephone call to The Associated Press. He said several of his family members were killed or wounded. [Continue reading…]
NBC News reports: One terror group killed nearly 11,000 people in 2015 — and it wasn’t ISIS.
While the Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq dominated the headlines in 2015, Boko Haram was killing more people than ever — potentially eclipsing the tally of its partner in terror.
Nigeria’s new government pledged to oust Boko Haram and has boasted of successfully retaking territory from the extremists, but experts warn this might merely have forced the group to change tactics and possibly prompted a higher civilian casualty toll. [Continue reading…]
The Atlantic reports: The grisly attacks in France and Lebanon last week have fixed attention on the violence perpetrated by ISIS. But a study published this week indicates that the world’s deadliest terrorist organization actually operates thousands of miles south of Paris and Beirut, in Nigeria.
The 2015 Global Terrorism Index, published by the Institute for Economics & Peace, found that Boko Haram, the Nigerian jihadist group, was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, compared with 6,073 at the hands of ISIS. Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002 as an Islamist movement against Western education and morphed into an armed insurgency in 2009, has rapidly expanded its scope and ambitions over the past two years, achieving international notoriety in the spring of 2014 by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. Much like ISIS, the organization controls territory in Nigeria (although it has lost some of it over the past year) and has declared a caliphate in that territory. The group is also international; although based in northeastern Nigeria, it has launched attacks in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In the latest incident, Boko Haram is the suspected author of an attack in the Nigerian city of Yola that has left more than 30 people dead. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times: Less than a week after Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general, took over as Nigeria’s president and vowed to crush Boko Haram, the group has intensified its attacks in the country’s northeast, killing scores in a series of assaults and suicide bombings.
Twenty to 50 people were killed in the latest attack on Tuesday. A man disguised as a salesman blew himself up in a slaughterhouse in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and the biggest city in the region, officials said.
Early on Tuesday morning, residents at the city’s southern edge also awoke to the sound of exploding rocket-propelled grenades and automatic gunfire from the militants, and a similar attack took place late Saturday night near the airport, killing at least eight people.
The Daily Beast reports: The Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, after some much heralded reversals on the battlefield, has made a dangerous comeback, unleashing female suicide bombers, carrying out a series of deadly attacks, and seizing a highly strategic town.
Having fled the larger part of their stronghold in Sambisa forest, the sect’s soldiers regrouped in Marte, a town 112 kilometers north of Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s embattled northeastern Borno state. Although government officials say Marte was seized last Friday, local sources have confirmed that the militants began to occupy the town at the end of April.
“They [Boko Haram] have been in Marte for a long time strategizing,” said a local community member. “They came in large numbers last month, but more members recently joined following the offensive in Sambisa forest by the military.”
This is the fourth time Boko Haram has seized control of Marte, a key battleground for their six-year insurgency. The town is among several retaken in recent weeks by Nigeria’s military. Sources said on Saturday that the insurgents have hoisted their flags on the recaptured territory, and have been coordinating attacks from there.
All this comes amid reports that Boko Haram may be receiving training from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, widely known as ISIS, which operates in Iraq and Syria. A group called the Mosul Youth Resistance Movement, apparently formed to fight ISIS in and around the major Iraqi city it conquered almost a year ago, killed five Boko Haram members there, according to the Iraqi Kurdish website BasNews. Saed Mamuzini, spokesperson for the Kurdish Democratic Party, is quoted saying, “The Nigerian Boko Haram militants were in Mosul to take part in a military training course conducted by Islamic State.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.
In interviews, the women described being locked in houses by the dozen, at the beck and call of fighters who forced them to have sex, sometimes with the specific goal of impregnating them.
“They married me,” said Hamsatu, 25, a young woman in a black-and-purple head scarf, looking down at the ground. She said she was four months pregnant, that the father was a Boko Haram member and that she had been forced to have sex with other militants who took control of her town.
“They chose the ones they wanted to marry,” added Hamsatu, whose full name was not used to protect her identity. “If anybody shouts, they said they would shoot them.” [Continue reading…]
Newsweek reports: ISIS have released a new issue of its recruitment magazine which is focused solely on expanding its presence across Africa, as the terror group’s propaganda strategy continues to develop.
The release, titled Shariah Alone Will Rule Africa, speaks of the ‘Libyan Arena’, Tunisia, Algeria, the Sinai Peninsula and West Africa. The cover of the magazine shows a large picture of Tunisia’s Great Mosque of Kairouan, seen as one of the holiest sites in Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
The magazine, which includes another interview from British hostage and photojournalist John Cantlie, sees spokesman for ISIS, Muhammad al-Adnani, congratulate Nigerian radical Islamist group Boko Haram for “joining the caravan” of jihad, saying that they would “now guard yet another frontier of the Khilafah [caliphate]”. [Continue reading…]
The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram’s recent pledge of allegiance to ISIS has generated a wave of speculation about its significance.
ISIS’s response was to release an audio tape purporting to welcome the pledge. In the rest of the world one dominant view is that ISIS and the jihadi front is spreading and becoming more organized, which, in turn, has spurred the US government to consider expanding its military actions to include ISIS affiliates.
There are, however, good reasons not to read too much into the Boko Haram pledge. It is probable that it will have little or no real practical significance, beyond the initial public relations bump.
Boko Haram under pressure
The pledge of allegiance (Arabic: bayat) by Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau on March 7 was made in an audio-message, in which the organization expresses its support for ISIS.
The announcement was hardly surprising; Boko Haram had been for some time praising ISIS’s actions. Also, the pledge comes at the time when Boko Haram is under much pressure. The recent coordinated offensive by the Chadian, Cameroonian and Nigerian armies has taken its toll on the organization. The pledge could possibly be seen as an act of desperation.
It is, however, doubtful if the pledge will turn any tide, and it is unlikely that the announced cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS would mean much – in practical terms – to either party.
The Somali organization al-Shabaab made a similar pledge to al-Qaida in 2012 without having any practical implications.
It is unlikely that ISIS will provide Boko Haram with fighters and arms. Boko Haram has, in fact, been critical of “Arab” involvement in its activities in Nigeria. Foreign fighters are not flocking to Nigeria as they are to ISIS-held areas. Nor is it likely that Boko Haram will provide soldiers to ISIS. It might mean infusion of funds from ISIS, but also that is uncertain.
Boko Haram and ISIS are rooted in different localities
Keep in mind that both organizations – even if they claim to represent something global – reflect their respective localities.
Boko Haram has its specific history and ethnic particularity and is geographically confined to northeast Nigeria. It has been haunted by internal divisions, and there are many questions as to how strong and coherent the current leadership is. Thus it is doubtful that the recent pledge will mean that Boko Haram would submit to the will of ISIS, take orders from Bagdadi, and view itself as a branch of ISIS.
This situation relates to the larger issue of constant fragmentation among militant Islamic groups.
The rise of ISIS has created tensions within the jihadi camp, with al-Qaida going against ISIS, and rifts developing between ISIS and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – the main jihadi ideologist associated with ISIS’s forerunner, al-Qaida in Iraq.
Boko Haram is itself a coalition of various factions, and it is unclear how strong this alliance actually is. While affiliating itself with ISIS, Boko Haram has at the same time not distanced itself from al-Qaida.
Everyone wants to be a caliph
A pattern of disintegration seems to be at play: exclusive ideologies coupled with violent struggles are empowering to individuals.
When groups under the leadership of strong personalities experience success they create momentum and leadership. Everyone, basically, wants to be a caliph or spiritual leader.
Just as al-Shabaab’s pledge to al-Qaida and its push beyond the confines of Somalia produced conflicts within that organization, Boko Haram’s pledge to ISIS may possibly spur further internal tensions.
The US and other Western powers should, therefore, be careful not to interpret the pledge as yet another sign of a more solidified front. While there obviously is an urgent need to reduce the human suffering caused by these organizations, there is a similar need to maintain a realistic view of the situation, to avoid exaggerating the threat scenarios, and to apply strategies that reduce the risk of political collateral damage.
It is also important to note the format of the pledge – an audio-message posted online. This is in clear contrast to how such pledges traditionally were done, when individuals or groups declared their allegiance in real time and space.
Boko Haram’s pledge obviously has an important symbolic meaning, but there is a noncommittal flavor to it. It says what it says, but that’s not necessarily binding for either party.
In a world with constant flows of messaging, including the posting of online fatwas (legal rulings) and jihadi propaganda videos, let’s not forget the ephemeral nature of such messages. Yesterday’s postings are forgotten and substituted by today’s postings.
Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS can therefore for practical reasons remain what it is: virtual.
Simon Tisdall writes: The pledge of allegiance offered to Islamic State (Isis) by the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, over the weekend, is a superficially impressive propaganda coup for the Syria-based Islamist extremist organisation, which has been collecting affiliates around the Muslim world like some people collect stamps.
But the new alliance, unilaterally proclaimed at the weekend by Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, is unlikely to amount to much in terms of immediate collaboration on joint operations. It may, in fact, be more of a cry for help, given a recent string of defeats sustained by Boko Haram. Since January’s gruesome and well-publicised massacre in Baga, on the border with Chad, when it butchered hundreds of civilians, Boko Haram has faced a concerted push-back from Nigeria’s military and a nascent multinational force combining troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin.
In the latest military moves, Niger and Chad said Sunday they had launched a “ground and air” offensive into Boko Haram-held territory in northeastern Nigeria. The attack followed the African Union’s decision on Friday to approve a regional force of 10,000 troops headquartered in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, tasked with “eradicating the presence” of Boko Haram.
This evolving regional security alliance has political backing from the US, France, and Britain. But the western powers remain loth to get involved directly themselves. US bilateral relations have been complicated by concern over human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces. As Boko Haram has been forced on to the defensive, several key towns in Shekau’s self-styled caliphate have been recaptured by the army, including Baga, Gambaru, and the garrison town of Monguno. Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, claimed last week that he knew the whereabouts of the Boko Haram leader and called on him to surrender or be killed. [Continue reading…]