The Nigerian terror group has established links with Islamic State (IS), after pledging allegiance to it in 2015
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service, who was born in Nigeria
ABUJA, NIGERIA (ANS – May 14, 2016) — Nigeria’s militant group Boko Haram remains a threat, French President Francois Hollande has warned ahead of a summit in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
The BBC is reporting that this was the case despite “impressive” gains against the group, Mr. Hollande said after meeting his Nigerian host Muhammadu Buhari.
Leaders of countries making up a force against the Islamist group are among those attending Saturday’s (May 14, 2016) summit today.
The terror group’s seven-year insurgency has killed some 20,000 people, and more than two million have been displaced from their homes.
“Boko Haram militants have been attacking civilian targets as the Nigerian military seeks to wrest territory from their control,” said the BBC.
“The group has established links with so-called Islamic State (IS), after pledging allegiance to it in 2015.”
President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed counterparts from Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger for the gathering in Abuja, along with French President Francois Hollande, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Mr. Blinken said he was concerned by reports that Boko Haram militants were going to Libya, where IS influence has grown in recent months.
“We’ve seen that Boko Haram’s ability to communicate has become more effective,” he said.
“They seem to have benefited from assistance from Daesh [Another name for Islamic State].”
At the same time, said the BBC, he declined to comment on whether the US would agree to a Nigerian request to sell it American war planes to fight Boko Haram.
After meeting President Buhari and ahead of the summit, Mr. Hollande praised his host and the regional countries for their co-ordination, adding that France provided “intelligence, information, training and equipment.”
He added: “It is this cohesion, this solidarity, this strategy which has enabled the success we are witnessing.”
The UK foreign secretary said Britain was training 1,000 Nigerian soldiers to attack Boko Haram strongholds in the north-east.
Mr. Hammond said the Islamist group was being “degraded”, adding: “We must maintain the momentum to win the war, and build the right conditions for post-conflict stability in the region.”
Boko Haram at a glance
* Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language
* Launched military operations in 2009
* Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, hundreds abducted, including at least 200 schoolgirls
* Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS’s “West African province”
* Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
* Regional force has retaken most territory this year
* Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?
According to BBC Africa’s Farouk Chothia, Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram – which has caused havoc in Africa’s most populous country through a wave of bombings, assassinations and abductions – is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.
“Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it ‘haram,’ or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society,” he said.
“This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.
“Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president – and it has extended its military campaign by targeting neighboring states.”
He said that the group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.”
The BBC said that they still refuse to send their children to government-run “Western schools”, a problem compounded by the ruling elite which does not see education as a priority.
Against this background, charismatic Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri in 2002. He set up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school.
Many poor Muslim families from across Nigeria, as well as neighboring countries, enrolled their children at the school.
But Boko Haram was not only interested in education. Its political goal was to create an Islamic state, and the school became a recruiting ground for jihadis.
In 2009, Boko Haram carried out a spate of attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.
This led to shoot-outs on Maiduguri’s streets. Hundreds of Boko Haram supporters were killed and thousands of residents fled the city.
Nigeria’s security forces eventually seized the group’s headquarters, capturing its fighters and killing Mr. Yusuf. His body was shown on state television and the security forces declared Boko Haram finished.
But its fighters regrouped under a new leader, Abubakar Shekau, and stepped up their insurgency.
In 2013, the US designated it a terrorist organization, amid fears that it had developed links with other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to wage a global jihad.
In April 2014, Boko Haram drew international condemnation by abducting more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok town in Borno state, saying it would treat them as slaves and marry them off – a reference to an ancient Islamic belief that women captured in conflict are considered war booty.
And it switched tactics, often holding on to territory rather than retreating after an attack.
In August 2014, Mr. Shekau declared a caliphate in areas under Boko Haram’s control, with the town of Gwoza its seat of power.
“We are in an Islamic caliphate,” said Mr. Shekau, flanked by masked fighters and carrying a machine gun. “We have nothing to do with Nigeria. We don’t believe in this name.”
Later, Mr. Shekau formally pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), turning his back on al-Qaeda.
IS accepted the pledge, naming the territory under Boko Haram’s control as the Islamic State of West Africa Province and as being part of the global caliphate it was trying to establish.
But, said the BBC, by March 2015, Boko Haram had lost all the towns under its control as a regional coalition – made up of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger – was formed to fight it.
Once again, Boko Haram retreated to the Sambisa forest, where the Nigerian military pursued it, freeing hundreds of captives.
But with Amnesty International saying that some 2,000 children were in captivity, many more are still to be freed.
“And while many fighters have been killed and weapons seized, some analysts say it is too early to write off Boko Haram,” stated the BBC.
“Northern Nigeria has a history of spawning militant Islamist groups, but Boko Haram has outlived them and has proved to be far more lethal and resilient.
“It has a fighting force of thousands of men – CIA officials had estimated around 9,000 – and cells that specialize in bombings. Through its raids on military bases and banks, it has gained control of vast amounts of weapons and money.
Analysts say the threat Boko Haram poses will disappear only if Nigeria’s government manages to reduce the region’s chronic poverty and builds an education system which gains the support of local Muslims.
Photo captions: 1) President Hollande meeting his Nigerian host Muhammadu Buhari. 2) Boko Haram leader,Abubakar Shekau, has pledged loyalty to Islamic State. 3) The group launched its insurgency in 2009 (AFP). 4) Boko Haram has attacked many schools in northern Nigeria. 5) The Chibok abductions caused outrage across Nigeria. 6) Dan Wooding being held by his mother, Anne Wooding, shortly after his birth at Vom Christian Hospital in Nigeria.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and the author or co-author of some 45 books. Dan has a radio show and two TV shows, all based in Southern California.
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