Boko Haram

Boko Haram formed in 2002 when Mohammed Yusuf, a well-known preacher and proselytizer of the Izala sect of Islam in the Maiduguri region of Nigeria, began to radicalize his discourse to reject all secular aspects of Nigerian society.

AT A GLANCE

Overview

Brief Summary of the Organization's History.

Organization

How does a group organize? Who leads it? How does it finance operations?

Strategy

How does a group fight? What are its aims and ideologies? What are some of its major attacks?

Major Attacks

What are the group's most famous attacks? What are some key attacks in the group's evolution?

Interactions

What is the group's relationship with the community? How does it interact with other groups?

Maps

What is the group's relationship with other militants over time?

Key Statistics

2002 First Recorded Activity
2003 First Attack
2018 Last Recorded Activity

Contact

Send a message to the Mapping Militants team.

How to Cite

Mapping Militant Organizations. “Boko Haram”. Stanford University. Last modified March 2018. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/boko-haram

Overview

Brief History

    Overview
  • Overview
  • Narrative

Overview

Formed2002
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackDecember 24, 2003: Boko Haram members attacked and occupied police stations in Geiam and Kanamma in Yobe State, raising the flag of the Afghanistan Taliban over buildings for several days (unknown killed, unknown wounded). 
Last AttackAugust 21, 2016: Militants attacked Kuburvwa village, killing civilians and raping women (11 killed, unknown wounded).
UpdatedAugust 26, 2016

In 2002, Mohammad Yusuf formed Boko Haram as a Sunni Islamist sect to oppose Western education and establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. The group has carried out numerous attacks since 2009, including the 2011 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, but is best known for the 2014 Chibok schoolgirl kidnapping, when the group abducted over 300 young Nigerian girls. Its primary base of operation is northeastern Nigeria, but it has conducted limited operations in Cameroon and Niger. In March 2015, Boko Haram became an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS). In August 2016, leadership struggles led to a split within Boko Haram, pitting the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) against Jama’atu Ahl al-Sunnah lil-Dawa wal-Jihad (JAS).

 

Narrative

Boko Haram formed in 2002 when Mohammed Yusuf, a well-known preacher and proselytizer of the Izala sect of Islam in the Maiduguri region of Nigeria, began to radicalize his discourse to reject all secular aspects of Nigerian society. In 2002, Yusuf opened a religious complex with an Islamic school in Maiduguri, Nigeria, which attracted students from poor Muslim families across the country. Yusuf reportedly used the school to convert and recruit future jihadis.[i]. Boko Haram expanded into Yobe state, where it set up another base, nicknamed “Afghanistan,” near the Nigeria-Niger border in 2003.[ii] From 2002-2003, a group of Yusuf’s students formed a community near Kanama, Nigeria in order to adhere to Yusuf’s teachings and live outside secular society. Members of this group, dubbed Al Sunna Wal Jamma (Followers of the Prophet’s Teachings) were the first followers of Yusuf to instigate violence against the Nigerian government. This sect was quashed by the Nigerian government in 2003.[iii]  In response Boko Haram conducted its first attack, occupying a police station and raising the Afghan Taliban flag.[iv]

Before 2009, the group was less politically focused, seeking to separate themselves from secular society. With the Yusuf’s death and increased conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, Boko Haram came to seek the overthrow of the Nigerian government and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Open conflict erupted in July 2009 following a violent clash between Boko Haram members and the police, when militants refused to adhere to a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. This incident incited violent uprisings in Bauchi and quickly spread to Borno, Yobe, and Kano.[v]  Nigerian military forces killed over 700 in suppressing the uprisings and capturing Yusuf.  Security forces later killed Yusuf, claiming that he had tried to escape.[vi]

After suffering severe losses in 2009, Boko Haram regrouped in 2010 under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf’s second-in-command.[vii]  The frequency, lethality, and sophistication of Boko Haram’s attacks increased dramatically under Shekau, allegedly as a result of increased cooperation with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). To protest the election of Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, Boko Haram carried out a series of bombings during Jonathan’s presidential inauguration in May 2011.[viii]  The escalation of violence continued throughout the year, including an attack on the Abuja UN building in August, Boko Haram’s first foreign target.[ix]  President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the areas of Yobe, Borno, Plateau, and Niger later that year.[x]

As Boko Haram grew increasingly violent, tensions grew between Mamman Nur, a leader of an independent faction within Boko Haram, and Shekau. In January 2012, members who opposed killing Muslims split off from Boko Haram to form Ansaru. Although Ansaru was originally composed of militants who supported Nur’s leadership over Shekau’s, Nur’s role is unknown.[xi]  Ansaru conducted numerous attacks against foreigners in northern Nigeria and its neighbors between 2013 and 2014.[xii] Ansaru stopped its attacks around 2014, and authorities captured its leader in 2016, effectively ending its campaign.[xiii]

Boko Haram became notorious when it kidnapped over 300 young girls from a secular school in Chibok, Nigeria, in April 2014. Just over 50 girls were able to escape immediately after the attack. The Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls inspired several other campaigns on various social media websites in hopes of pressuring the Nigerian government to do more to recover the girls.[xiv]  In October 2014, the government announced that it had negotiated a ceasefire with Boko Haram and that the schoolgirls would be released shortly. However, within two weeks of the announcement, Boko Haram released a video in which Shekau repudiated the ceasefire and claimed that the missing girls had already been converted to Islam and were married to Boko Haram members.[xv]  The Chibok kidnappings prompted the United States to deploy additional counterterrorism resources to Nigerian law enforcement agencies.[xvi] As of January 2018, 106 girls had been rescued. The Nigerian government negotiated and the International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated the release in exchange for Boko Haram militants.[xvii]  The girls rescued were found living as wives and mothers among Boko Haram fighters. On January 15, 2018, Boko Haram released a video featuring kidnapped women and the remaining Chibok girls. [xviii]

In January 2015, Boko Haram unleashed a massive assault on the villages of Baga and Doron Baga in Borno State and claimed control over the area.  Local officials suggested that as many as 2,000 people were killed in these attacks, but the Nigerian government capped the death toll at 150.[xix] A few weeks later, militants tried to attack Maiduguri, Borno’s capital city, but government troops prevented the planned takeover.[xx]  According to the Council on Foreign Relations, by August 2015 more than 16,000 people had been killed and 2.5 million people displaced because of Boko Haram violence.[xxi] In response to the threat, the African Union (AU) endorsed a military coalition to contain and degrade Boko Haram’s activities in Nigeria; they  changed the mandate of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to encompass counter-terrorist operations and increased its funding.  Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Benin pledged troops for the 7,500-strong Multinational Joint Task Force. The coalition aimed to protect the Nigerian border and the Lake Chad region but not participate in the conflict within Nigeria. The force deployed on March 6, 2015, and the offensive against Boko Haram began with Chadian and Nigerian airstrikes that drove the organization out of a dozen towns in Northern Nigeria.  As a result of Chadian participation in the MNJTF, Boko Haram began targeting the Chad basin region, torching homes and kidnapping villagers before being pushed back by the Chadian military.[xxii]

On February 7, 2015, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that national elections would be postponed for six weeks in order for security forces to launch an offensive to regain territory controlled by Boko Haram.[xxiii]  Estimates suggested that Boko Haram controlled about 20,000 square miles of territory in northeastern Nigeria. [xxiv] Attacks on civilians continued, including across borders in both Chad and Cameroon.[xxv]  On March 28, the Nigerian Election Day, Boko Haram killed 41 people in an attempt to keep voters from the polls but millions still voted.[xxvi]

In early March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in an audio message posted online, featuring Shekau. [xxvii] Reportedly, Boko Haram militants were traveling to train at IS military camps at that time.  When IS accepted the pledge in late March, it referred to Boko Haram as the Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP), a name that subsequently appeared on social media accounts linked to IS.  IS also encouraged Muslims to join Boko Haram and other West African militant groups.[xxviii]  Some analysts argued that the affiliation between Boko Haram and IS was a desperate move by Boko Haram “to boost its members’ morale, image and attract local support” after the African Union coalition force drove the group into the Sambisa Forest.[xxix]  In April 2015, the Nigerian government considered the offensive against Boko Haram to be in its last stages: Boko Haram controlled no towns, and the coalition was closing in on the Sambisa Forest.[xxx]

Despite being pushed out of its stronghold, Boko Haram continued operations, often employing suicide bombers to attack civilian, police, and government targets throughout Nigeria.  In March 2016, militants from Boko Haram were reportedly fighting for IS in Libya.[xxxi] On August 3, 2016, IS announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi, son of the founder of Boko Haram, would assume leadership.  Two days later, Shekau responded that Barnawi’s followers were manipulating IS leaders in order to cut him off in a sort of coup and that he and his followers would not follow Barnawi. This dispute reportedly led to splits within Boko Haram.[xxxii]  Barnawi was arrested in late 2016, but the two factions of Boko Haram remained, one known as ISWAP, and the other known as JAS. The media and government typically treated the two splinters as one group.

In late 2016 and early 2017 the number of killings by Boko Haram was significantly reduced, but activity increased again.  Between April and September 2017 there were an estimated 400 deaths.[xxxiii]  The group remained active in northeast Nigeria, using suicide bombers to attack markets, universities, and displacement camps, and raiding villages. Most attacks were credited to Barnawi and occurred in Nigeria, for example, the 2017 ambush of an oil exploration team from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the reclaim of territory in Borno.[xxxiv]  Boko Haram’s escalation in 2017 is attributed to the withdrawal of Chadian forces from the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) posted along Lake Chad.[xxxv]

In 2018 the split within Boko Haram persisted. Barnawi continued to lead the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Shekau led Jama’atu Ahl al-Sunnah lil-Dawa wal-Jihad (JAS). JAS was stronger, more active, and also more transnational in its operations.  Even so, the two groups were ideologically similar, and outside media typically treated them as the same group.

 


[i] Chothia, Farouk. “Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?” BBC News. May 20, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13809501.

[ii] Zenn, Jacob. “Boko Haram’s International Connections.” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 6, Issue 1 Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point. January, 2013.

[iii] Perouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine, editor. “Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security, and the state in Nigeria,” West African Politics and Society Series, Vol. 2. African Studies Center 2014. 

[iv] ONuoha, Freedom. “Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram?” United States Institute of Peace Special Report, June 9, 2014.

[v] Sergie, Mohammed Aly and Toni Johnson. “Boko Haram.” Council on Foreign Relations. Updated Oct. 7, 2014. http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.

[vi] Adetunji, Jo. “Bomb attack kills at least 25 in northern Nigeria.” The Guardian. June 26, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jun/27/nigeria-bombings-terrorist-killings-islamist

[vii]Chothia, Farouk. “Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?” BBC News. May 20, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13809501

[viii] “Nigeria attacks claimed by Islamist sect Boko Haram.” BBC News.  June 1, 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13618775.

[ix] Murray, Senan and Adam Nossiter. “Suicide Bomber Attacks U.N. Building in Nigeria.” New York Times. Aug. 26, 2011.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/27/world/africa/27nigeria.html?pagewanted...

[x] “Boko Haram attacks prompt Nigeria state of emergency.” BBC News. Jan. 1, 2012. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-16373531.    

[xi] Raghavan, Sudarsan. “Nigerian Islamist militants return from Mali with weapons, skills.” The Washington Post. May 31, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/nigerian-islamist-militants-return-from-mali-with-weapons-skills/2013/05/31/d377579e-c628-11e2-9cd9-3b9a22a4000a_story.html.

[xii] Blanchard, Lauren. “Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions.” Congressional Research Service. June 10, 2014. http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43558.pdf. Zenn, Jacob. “Nigerian al-Qaedaism” The Hudson Group. March 11, 2014.    https://www.hudson.org/research/10172-nigerian-al-qaedaism-.

[xiii] United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 - Foreign Terrorist Organizations: Jama'atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan (Ansaru), July 19, 2017.  http://www.refworld.org/docid/5981e3d313.html

[xiv] Kristof, Nicholas. “Bring Back Our Girls.” New York Times. May 3 2014.

[xv] “What now after Nigeria’s Boko Haram ceasefire fiasco?” BBC News. Nov. 3, 2014.

[xvi] Blanchard, Lauren. “Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions.” Congressional Research Service. June 10, 2014. http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43558.pdf.  

[xvii] Nigeria Chibok abductions: what we know” BBC News, May 8, 2017. "Chibok Girls: Kidnapped Schoolgirl Found in Nigeria." BBC News, May 18, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32299943

[xviii] Searcy, Dionne. “Boko Haram Video is Said to Show Captured Girls from Chibok” New York Times, Jan. 15, 2018. https://nyti.ms/2FEQmNp; "Chibok Girls: Kidnapped Schoolgirl Found in Nigeria." BBC News, May 18, 2016. “Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions.” Congressional Research Service. June 10, 2014. http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43558.pdf.

[xix] Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Baga Destruction ‘shown in images’.” BBC News. Jan. 15, 2015.

[xx] Ola, Lanre and Ardoo Abdullah. “Nigeria repels suspected Boko Haram attack on Maiduguri City.” Reuters. Jan. 25, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/25/us-nigeria-violence-maiduguri-idUSKBN0KY08720150125

[xxi]“ISIS Owns Headlines, but Nigeria’s Boko Haram Kills More than Ever,” NBC News, December 23, 2015 quoting the Council on Foreign Relations https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/2015-year-in-review/isis-owns-headlines-nigeria-s-boko-haram-kills-more-ever-n480986.   

[xxii]Comolli, Victoria “The evolution and impact of Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin” Humanitarian Practice Network. Oct 2017. "Nigeria postpones elections, focuses on major offensive against Boko Haram". The Christian Science Monitor. August 18, 2015.  

[xxiii] Nossiter, Adam. “Nigeria Postpones Elections, Saying Security is a Concern.” New York Times. Feb. 7, 2015.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/world/africa/nigeria-postpones-elections-citing-security-concerns.html?_r=0.

[xxiv] Blair, David. “Boko Haram is now a mini-Islamic State, with its own territory.” The Telegraph. Jan. 10, 2015.

[xxv] "Boko Haram Goes on Deadly Rampage after Chad Offensive." Al Jazeera America. February 4, 2015.  

[xxvi] “Boko Haram Kills 41 as Millions of Nigerians Vote in Close Presidential Election." CTVNews/AP. March 28, 2015.

[xxvii] "Islamic State 'accepts' Boko Haram's Allegiance Pledge." BBC News. March 13, 2015.

[xxviii] "Analysis: Islamic State Strengthens Ties with Boko Haram." BBC News. April 24, 2015.

[xxix] Chandler, Adam. "The Islamic State of Boko Haram?" The Atlantic. Mar. 9, 2015.

[xxx] "Nigerian Military Enter 'Final Stages' of Boko Haram Offensive." Newsweek. April 23, 2015. "Nigerian Troops Rescue More Boko Haram Captives from Forest Redoubt." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor. April 30, 2015.

[xxxi] Cooper, Helene. “Boko Haram and ISIS Are Collaborating More, U.S. Military Says.”  The New York Times, April 20, 2016. 

[xxxii] Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, and Jacob Zenn. "Boko Haram’s Doomed Marriage to the Islamic State." War on the Rocks, Aug. 26, 2016.

[xxxiii] “Nigerians fear 'no end in sight' to Boko Haram fight.”  Al Jazeera News, Oct. 1, 2017. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/nigerians-fear-sight-boko-haram-fight-171001103443489.html

[xxxiv] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018 - Nigeria, January 18, 2018. 

[xxxv] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Nigeria Situation, Situational Update - 01-30 November 2017, November 30, 2017. 

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Mohammad Yusuf (2002 to July 30, 2009)
  • Mamman Nur (2002 to January 2012)
  • Abu Musab al-Barnawi (August 3, 2016 to December 29, 2016)
  • Abubakar Shekau (2010 to Present)

Leadership

This section describes various leaders, their deputies, and other important officials in the militant organization.

 

Mohammad Yusuf (2002 to July 30, 2009)

Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, was killed by government forces while in custody, allegedly while trying to escape, after the July 2009 uprisings in northeastern Nigeria.[i]



[i] “Nigeria sect head dies in custody.” BBC News. July 31, 2009.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8177451.stm.

 

 

Mamman Nur (2002 to January 2012)

Nur was third-in-command under Yusuf and second-in-command under Shekau. Frictions with Shekau lead Nur’s followers to form a splinter group called Ansaru in January 2012. Nur’s role in the splinter faction or its formation is unknown. Nur reportedly directed the 2011 UN bombing.[i]

 



[i] U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security. “Boko Haram: Growing Threat to the U.S. Homeland.”  Sep. 13, 2013. http://homeland.house.gov/sites/homeland.house.gov/files/documents/09-13....

 

[ii] Fanusie, Yaya J. and Entz, Alex. “Boko Haram Financial Assessment” Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance: Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. May 2017.

 

 

Abu Musab al-Barnawi (August 3, 2016 to December 29, 2016)

After the Islamic State (IS) accepted Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance in late March 2015, IS announced that Barnawi would assume leadership on August 3, 2016; however, two days later, Shekau released statements that claimed Barnawi was an infidel and that the leadership change was a coup on part of IS.  Before gaining the leadership role, Barnawi worked as a spokesman for Boko Haram in its early days, but in 2013 he defected and joined Ansaru, a splinter group of Boko Haram.  Barnawi reportedly rejoined Boko Haram in 2015.  The leadership split resulted in two competing factions within Boko Haram--Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), headed by Barnawi,  and Jama’atu Ahl al-Sunnah lil-Dawa wal-Jihad (JAS), headed by Shekau.[i]



[i] Fanusie, Yaya J. and Entz, Alex. “Boko Haram Financial Assessment” Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance: Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. May 2017.

 

 

Abubakar Shekau (2010 to Present)

Shekau was the second leader of Boko Haram. At least three reports of Shekau’s death appeared, but he mocked these claims in jihadist videos released by Boko Haram.[i]



[i] Cocks, Tim. “Boko Haram ‘leader,’ killed repeatedly, continues to threaten Nigeria.” Reuters.  September 25, 2014.

 

 

    Name Changes
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Name Changes

  • 2003-2010: Ahl al-sunna wa’l jama’a ala minhaj al-salaf (Association of the People of the Sunnah for the Implementation of the Salafs’ Model.[i]
  • 2010- 2015: Jamā‘atu ahl al-Sunna li’l-Da‘wa wa’l-jihād (Association of Sunnah People for Proselytization and Armed Struggle). Renamed after the violent insurgence in 2009, to further stress the division from the original Izala movement, and reflecting the group’s violent logic.[ii]
  • 2015-Present: Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). Formed after Shekau pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. 


[i]Perouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine, editor.  “Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security, and the state in Nigeria.” West African Politics and Society Series, Vol. 2. African Studies Center 2014.  

[ii]Perouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine, editor.  “Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security, and the state in Nigeria.” West African Politics and Society Series, Vol. 2. African Studies Center 2014.    

 

 

Size Estimates

  • 2013: 100s-1,000s (U.S. State Department) [i]
  • October 31, 2014: 15,000-20,000 (Combating Terrorism Center at West Point) [ii]


[i] U.S. Department of State. “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism. April 2014. http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2013/224829.htm

[ii] Zenn, Jacob. “Boko Haram: Recruitment, Financing, and Arms Trafficking in the Lake Chad Region.” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 7, Issue 10.  October 2014.

 

 

Resources

In 2015, Boko Haram had a revenue of at least $10 million a year; however, its funding then declined to the point that it could not pay salaries. Boko Harama used a hawala system to move money and generated local funding through bank robberies, taxation, extortion, smuggling, trafficking, ransom payments, and even looting villages for money, food, and livestock.[i] The group reportedly received funding from AQIM and acquired weapons from former Libyan stockpiles through these ties.[ii]

Boko Haram benefitted from a low-cost operation that functioned in a difficult to police part of Nigeria, facilitated by government corruption. There were claims that local government officials paid Boko Haram not to attack their districts.  High levels of poverty afforded plentiful recruitment opportunities for men desperate for employment and enfranchisement. Boko Haram also offered no interest loans, then either extorted successful business owners to smuggle or donate to the group, or conscripted them into the group when they could not pay.[iii]



[i] Fanusie, Yaya J. and Entz, Alex. “Boko Haram Financial Assessment” Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance: Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. May 2017. http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram...

[ii] U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Counterterrorism.  Country Reports on Terrorism 2013. “Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” April 2014. http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2013/224829.htm.

[iii] Fanusie, Yaya J. and Entz, Alex. “Boko Haram Financial Assessment” Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance: Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. May 2017. http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf/.    

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, Nigeria.  Before the 2015 Nigerian government offensive, the group focused its attacks on the northern states of Yobe, Jano, Bauchi, Borno, and Kaduna. It also conducted limited operations in Cameroon and Niger. Prior to or starting in 2012, U.S. officials believed that Boko Haram frequently trained in northern Mali with AQIM.[i] In 2015, the African Union and Nigerian government coalition pushed Boko Haram into a final stronghold in the 23,000 square mile Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria.[ii] In 2017, Boko Haram was active in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, with its primary stronghold remaining the Sambisa forest.[iii]



[i] Doyle, Mark. “Africa’s Islamist militants ‘co-ordinate efforts’.” BBC News. June 26, 2012.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-18592789.  

[ii] Withnall, Adam.  “Boko Haram renames itself Islamic State's West Africa Province (Iswap) as militants launch new offensive against government forces.”  The Independent, April 26, 2015. 

[iii] Fanusie, Yaya J. and Entz, Alex. “Boko Haram Financial Assessment” Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance: Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. May 2017. http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf/.   

 

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

Boko Haram, which translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden,” is a Sunni Islamist militant organization that opposes Western education and influence in Nigeria. Its founder Mohammad Yusuf was heavily influenced by the opinions of Ibn Taymiyyah, a fourteenth century scholar of Islamic fundamentalism. Yusuf originally followed and preached the Izala doctrine, which advocates the establishment of a Muslim society that follows the lessons of its pious ancestors. After his initial radicalization in 2002, Yusuf’s ideology evolved and radicalized into a philosophy that rejected all Western and secular aspects of Nigerian society.[i]

Boko Haram originally advocated a doctrine of withdrawal from society but did not aim to overthrow the Nigerian government.  Yusuf’s death and increased conflict with the Nigerian government in 2009 sparked the political opposition and violent campaign that Boko Haram became known for. Under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the group sought to establish an Islamic caliphate to replace the Nigerian government.[ii]



[i] Perouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine, editor.  “Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security, and the state in Nigeria.” West African Politics and Society Series, Vol. 2. African Studies Center 2014.   

[ii] “Explaining Boko Haram, Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency.” New York Times. Nov. 10, 2014.

 

Political Activities

Boko Haram did not work within the Nigerian political system or cooperate with the government. Alex Badeh, Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff, announced on October 17, 2014, that the government had negotiated a ceasefire with Boko Haram. He also claimed that the group agreed to release the 300 school girls who had been abducted in the Chibok kidnapping in April. However, Shekau denied claims that the group had reached a truce with government forces in a video released on October 31, 2014.[i]



[i] “Boko Haram denies ceasefire claim by Nigeria’s government.” BBC News. Nov. 1, 2014.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29859587.

 

 

Targets and Tactics

Initially, Boko Haram primarily targeted state and federal buildings, including police stations and prisons, but it turned toward civilian targets under Abubakar Shekau’s leadership, such as schools, religious institutions, markets, and entire towns. While the group relied mostly on arson and small arms, it also used IEDs, car bombs, and suicide tactics after 2011.

Boko Haram’s suicide tactics have changed over time. Originally, militants struck governmental targets. However, by January 2018, women and children (non-volunteers) targeted civilians and then unusual targets such as internally displaced persons camps. As a result of media attention and global prominence, Boko Haram realized after the Chibok girls kidnapping, that female participation in terrorist violence could stimulate additional shock, horror, and thus media value. Women were often recruited into Boko Haram as a result of marriage, often were not searched, and could easily hide suicide vests in loose, billowy clothing. This made them exceedingly valuable assets.[i]



[i] Warner, Jason and Hilary Matfess. “Exploding Stereotypes: The Unexpected Operational and Demographic Characteristics of Boko Haram’s Suicide Bombers.” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Report. August 9, 2017.    https://ctc.usma.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Exploding-Stereotypes-1.pdf

 

 

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks

Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing, but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

December 24, 2003: Boko Haram members occupied police stations in Geiam and Kanamma in Yobe State, raising the flag of the Afghanistan Taliban (unknown killed, unknown wounded.[i]

July 27, 2009: Boko Haram launched a series of attacks in Maiduguri, Borno, Nigeria, setting several churches, police stations, and a prison on fire (75+ killed, unknown wounded.[ii]

August 26, 2011: A suicide bomber from Boko Haram crashed a car filled with explosives into the main building of the United Nations headquarters in Abuja (23 killed, 87 wounded).[iii]

January 20, 2012: Boko Haram coordinated a series of bomb attacks and shooting sprees in the city of Kano, mainly targeting police stations (187 killed, 50 wounded).[iv]

September 17, 2013: Boko Haram raided the town of Benisheik. Members disguised in military uniforms set up checkpoints just outside of the town and shot all those who tried to flee (142 killed, unknown wounded).[v]

April 14, 2014: Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 girls aged 16 to 18 from a secular school in Chibok.[vi]  In November 2014, Boko Haram claimed that the abducted girls had been converted to Islam and married off.  As of May 2016, 219 girls were still missing, but a few living as wives and mothers among Boko Haram fighters were rescued.  They reported that most of the girls were still alive, with the exception of 6 (unknown killed, unknown wounded). As of Jan 19, 2018, 106 girls had escaped Boko Haram, with the vast majority freed following negotiations facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Government.[vii]

July 27, 2014: Boko Haram kidnapped the wife of Cameroon Deputy Prime Minister, Amadou Ali, in an attack on the town of Kolofata in northern Cameroon. Akaoua Babiana, along with 27 others who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram on other occasions, were freed in October 2014 (3 killed, unknown wounded).[viii]

January 3, 2015: Boko Haram attacked the towns of Baga and Doron Baga, Borno, Nigeria over four days. Boko Haram shot indiscriminately from armored vehicles and set numerous buildings on fire. On January 12, the Nigerian government reported that 150 people had died in the attacks, but satellite images released by Amnesty International suggested a much higher number (2,000 killed, unknown wounded).[ix]

January 18, 2015: Boko Haram kidnapped 80 civilians from northern Cameroon, including many children. Cameroon’s army freed 24 hostages and pursued Boko Haram back to Nigeria (3 killed, 0 wounded).[x]

February 6, 2015: Boko Haram militants attacked Bosso in the first major attack in Niger, leaving 57 killed and 7 injured (57 killed, 7 injured).[xi]

February 13, 2015: Boko Haram attacked the village of Ngouboua in Chad and torched two-thirds of the homes in the village before the Chadian military intervened. This was Boko Haram’s first attack in Chad, probably in revenge for Chad joining Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon in a military coalition against them (10 killed, 4 wounded).[xii]

March 28, 2015: Boko Haram killed 41 people in an attempt to keep civilians from the polls on Nigerian Election Day (41 killed, unknown wounded).[xiii]

October 2015: Boko Haram fighters bombed Abuja, Nigeria, and suicide bombed a mainly Nigerian refugee camp in Chad (54 killed, 51 wounded).[xiv]

January 30, 2016: Militants attacked Dalori, Nigeria with suicide bombs and allegedly burned children alive (86 killed, unknown wounded).[xv]

February 9, 2016: Two female suicide bombers detonated explosives at a displaced persons camp in Dika, Nigeria (58 killed, 80+ wounded).[xvi]

August 21, 2016: Militants attacked Kuburvwa village, Nigeria (11 killed, unknown wounded.[xvii]

December 9, 2016: Two female suicide bombers attacked a market in Madagali village.  Nigerian military officials reported 30 dead, 68 wounded, while open source news reported 57 dead, 177 wounded.[xviii]

July 28, 2017: Boko Haram attacked an oil exploration team in Northeast Nigeria (50+ killed, unknown wounded.[xix]

August 15, 2017: Three women suicide bombers attacked an internally displaced persons camp and a market in northeastern Nigeria. (20 killed, 80+ wounded).[xx]

November 21, 2017: Teenage suicide bomber detonated explosives during morning services at a mosque in Mubi, Nigeria (50+ killed). [xxi]

January 17, 2018: A male and female suicide bomber attacked a market in Maiduguri, Nigeria (12 killed, 45+ wounded).[xxii]

February 21, 2018:  Boko Haram seized 110 schoolgirls from a school in Dapchi, Nigeria.[xxiii]

March 2, 2018:  Suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 11 people including three aid workers in an attack on a military barracks in the town of Rann, in northeastern Borno state near the Cameroon border.  Two aid workers were contractors with the International Organization for Migration, and the third was a doctor employed as a consultant for UNICEF.[xxiv]

 



[i] ONuoha, Freedom. “Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram?” United States Institute of Peace Special Report, June 9, 2014. 

[ii] “Boko Haram timeline: From preachers to slave raiders.” BBC News. May 15, 2013. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-22538888.  “Incident Summary.” Global Terrorism Database. Version GTDIS: 200907270029. University of Maryland.  http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/IncidentSummary.aspx?gtdid=200907270029.

[iii] Murray, Senan and Adam Nossiter. “Suicide Bomber Attacks U.N. Building in Nigeria.” New York Times. Aug. 26, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/27/world/africa/27nigeria.html?pagewanted...

[iv] Oboh, Mike. “Islamist insurgents kill over 178 in Nigeria’s Kano.” Reuters. Jan. 22, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/22/us-nigeria-violence-idUSTRE80L0A020120122

[v] “Nigeria’s Boko Haram Unrest: Scores dead in Benisheik raid.” BBC News.  September 19, 2013. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24169992.

[vi] “Chibok abductions in Nigeria: More than 230 seized.” BBC News. April 21, 2014.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27101714.

[vii] Nigeria Chibok abductions: what we know” BBC News, May 8, 2017; "Chibok Girls: Kidnapped Schoolgirl Found in Nigeria." BBC News, May 18, 2016; Karimi, Faith and Aminu Abubakar. “Boko Haram leader denies ceasefire deal, says 200 abducted girls married off.” CNN News. Nov. 2, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/01/world/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-denies-deal/.

[viii] Musa, Tansa. “Boko Haram Kidnaps wife of Cameroon’s vice PM, kills at least three.” Reuters.  July 27, 2014. http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/07/27/uk-cameroon-violence-boko-haram-idINKBN0FW0CK20140727; “Cameoon flies freed Boko Haram hostages to capital.” BBC News. Oct. 11, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29581495.

[ix] Abdullah, Ardo. “Boko Haram kills dozens in fresh raids in Nigerian town.” Reuters. Jan. 8, 2015. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/01/08/uk-nigeria-violence-toll-idUKKB... “Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Baga Destruction ‘shown in images’.” BBC News. Jan. 15 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30826582.}}

[x] Nzouankeu, Anne and Tansa Musa. “Suspected Boko Haram Fighters kidnap around 80 in Cameroon.” Reuters. Jan. 18, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/18/us-nigeria-violence-cameroon-idUSKBN0KR0R420150118; Farge, Emma. “Cameroon frees 24 hostages after suspected Boko Haram kidnapping.” Reuters. Jan. 19, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/19/us-nigeria-violence-cameroon-i....

[xi] Hama, Boureima. “'109 Boko Haram fighters dead' after first attack on Niger.” Agence France Presse, February 6, 2015.  https://news.yahoo.com/first-boko-haram-attack-niger-witnesses-000757903.html

[xii] “Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants attack Chad for the first time.” BBC News.  Feb. 13, 2015.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31453951

[xiii] "Boko Haram Kills 41 as Millions of Nigerians Vote in Close Presidential Election." CTVNews. March 28, 2015. Reported by Michelle Faul and Haruna Umar, Associated Press. 

[xiv] Winsor, Morgan. "Boko Haram Claims Responsibility For Suicide Bombings Near Nigeria's Capital Abuja." International Business Times, Oct. 5, 2015; "Suspected Boko Haram Suicide Attacks Kill Dozens in Chad." France 24, Oct. 10, 2015.

[xv] Onyanga-Omara, Jane. "Survivor Claims Boko Haram Burned Kids Alive in Attack That Kills 86."  USA Today, Feb. 1, 2016.

[xvi] Al-amin, Usam Sadiq, and Dionne Searcey. "Young Bombers Kill 58 at Nigerian Camp for Those Fleeing Boko Haram." The New York Times, Feb. 10, 2016.

[xvii] Haruna, Abdulkareem. "Boko Haram Strikes Again, Kills 11 near Chibok." Premium Times Nigeria, Aug. 22, 2016.

[xviii] US Department of State. Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2016.   https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2016/

[xix] “Boko Haram attack on oil team ‘killed more than 50’.” The Telegraph. July 28, 2017.

[xx] McKirdy, Euan and Abubakar, Aminu “Dozens killed in northern Nigeria triple suicide attack.” CNN News. Aug. 16, 2017.

[xxi] Akinwotu, Emmanuel. Searcery, Dionne. “Nigeria Mosque Targeted in Deadly Suicide Bombing” The New York Times. Nov. 21, 2017.

[xxii] Abdulrahim, Ismail Alfa, “Suicide attack at market in Nigeria’s Maiduguri kills 12,” AP, January 17, 2018.  https://www.apnews.com/a6e4daa4be6440ef81c5f300118aa756.

[xxiii] Searcey Dionne, and Emmanuel Akinwotu.  “Boko Haram Storms Girls’ School in Nigeria, Renewing Fears,” The New York Times, Feb. 21, 2018; Gopep, Jonathan, Dionne Searcey, and Emmanuel Akinwotu. “Boko Haram’s Seizure of 110 Girls Taunts Nigeria, and Its Leader.”  The New York Times, March 18, 2018. 

[xxiv] Carsten, Paul.  “Suspected Boko Haram militants kill 11 including three aid workers in Nigeria,” Reuters World News, March 2, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nigeria-security/suspected-boko-haram-militants-kill-11-including-three-aid-workers-in-nigeria-idUSKCN1GE14Z

 

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relationships with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/Listed

  • U.K. List of Proscribed Groups: July 12, 2013 to Present [i]
  • U.S. State Department Foreign Terrorist Organizations: November 13, 2013 to Present [ii]


[i] United Kingdom Home Office. “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations.” November 28, 2014.  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380939/ProscribedOrganisations.pdf

[ii] U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism. “Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram and Ansaru.” Nov. 13, 2013. https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/266565.htm.  Also “Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department under E.O. 13224.”   http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/143210.htm.

 

Community Relations

Boko Haram drew support from young Muslim men living in impoverished areas of northeastern Nigeria. It is likely that the abusive response of government forces to Boko Haram activity, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of those suspected of supporting Boko Haram, further alienated these men.[i]  While Boko Haram was relatively popular under Yusuf, the group’s indiscriminate targeting of fellow Muslims diminished support. Jama’ata Nasril Islam, a moderate group representing Nigeria’s Muslims, condemned Boko Haram’s actions as inhumane and “un-Islamic.”[ii]  Women and children were particularly vulnerable to Boko Haram pressure, as they were often linked through marriage or paternity, or were otherwise coerced into suicide bombing missions by threats of violence or promises of eternal salvation.[iii]



[i] “Nigeria: Boko Haram Kills 2,053 Civilians in 6 Months.” Human Rights Watch. July 15, 2014. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/15/nigeria-boko-haram-kills-2053-civilians-6-months; Blanchard, Lauren. “Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions.” Congressional Research Service. June 10, 2014. http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43558.pdf. 

[ii] Mazen, Maram. “Bloodshed corrodes support for Boko Haram.” Al Jazeera. May 25, 2014. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/05/bloodshed-corrodes-sup...

[iii] Warner, Jason and Hilary Matfess. “Exploding Stereotypes: The Unexpected Operational and Demographic Characteristics of Boko Haram’s Suicide Bombers.” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Report. August 9, 2017.  https://ctc.usma.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Exploding-Stereotypes-1.pdf

 

Relationships with Other Groups

Boko Haram trained with and received funding and other resources from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) beginning in or prior to 2012.[i]  After pledging allegiance to IS in 2015 and rebranding itself as ASWAP, Boko Haram ceased to receive funding or other support from AQIM.

In January 2012, a Boko Haram faction opposing the killing of Muslims split off to form Ansaru. The group was originally composed of those who supported Mamman Nur’s leadership over Shekau’s.  Nur’s role in the formation and activities of the group are unknown.[ii]  Ansaru frequently targeted foreigners in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries.[iii]

In early March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in an online audio message that featured Shekau.  Boko Haram militants were allegedly already traveling to train at IS camps.[iv]  In late March, IS accepted Boko Haram’s pledge and referred to Boko Haram as the Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP), a name that subsequently appeared on social media accounts linked to IS.[v]  IS also encouraged Muslims to join Boko Haram. Some analysts argued that the alliance was a desperate move by Boko Haram “to boost their members’ morale, image and attract local support” after the African Union coalition force drove the group into the Sambisa Forest, which was believed to be the last remaining stronghold of the organization.[vi]  On August 3, 2016, IS announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi, son of the founder of Boko Haram, would assume leadership of the group.  Two days later, Shekau announced that Barnawi’s followers were manipulating IS leaders in order to undermine his power; he said that he and his followers would not follow Barnawi, which reportedly led to splits within Boko Haram.[vii]

As of 2018, Barnawi continued to lead Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Shekau led Jama’atu Ahl al-Sunnah lil-Dawa wal-Jihad (JAS). The two groups are ideologically similar, leading the media to treat both organizations as Boko Haram.



[i] Doyle, Mark. “Africa’s Islamist militants ‘co-ordinate efforts’.” BBC News. June 26, 2012.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-18592789.  

[ii] Raghavan, Sudarsan. “Nigerian Islamist militants return from Mali with weapons, skills.” The Washington Post. May 31, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/nigerian-islamist-militants-return-from-mali-with-weapons-skills/2013/05/31/d377579e-c628-11e2-9cd9-3b9a22a4000a_story.html

[iii] Zenn, Jacob. “Cooperation or Competition: Boko Haram and Ansaru after the Mali Intervention,” CTC Sentinel,  Volume 6, Issue 3 March 2013.  https://ctc.usma.edu/cooperation-or-competition-boko-haram-and-ansaru-af...

[iv] "Islamic State 'accepts' Boko Haram's Allegiance Pledge." BBC News. March 13, 2015.

[v]"Analysis: Islamic State Strengthens Ties with Boko Haram." BBC News. April 24, 2015.

[vi] Chandler, Adam. "The Islamic State of Boko Haram?" The Atlantic. March 9, 2015. 

[vii] Gartenstein-Ross, Daveed, and Jacob Zenn. "Boko Haram’s Doomed Marriage to the Islamic State." War on the Rocks, Aug. 26, 2016.

 

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

There are no publicly available external influences for this group.

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that “map” relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.

Evolving Militant Interactions

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Last updated March 2018