By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service firstname.lastname@example.org
NIGERIA (ANS, July 27, 2015) — 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, according to analysis by Farouk Chothia of BBC Africa.
Chothia writes, in analysis for the BBC, that 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. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.
The BBC article states that 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.
Boko Haram has attacked many schools in northern Nigeria, the group launched its insurgency in 2009, and it has targeted both civilians and the military, the BBC explained it the analysis.
The BBC says 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.”
Resisting British rule
But residents in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where the group had its headquarters, dubbed it Boko Haram. Loosely translated from the region’s Hausa language, this means “Western education is forbidden”.
Boko originally meant fake but came to signify Western education, while haram means forbidden.
Quick Facts about Boko Haram:
*Founded in 2002
*Official Arabic name, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”
* Initially focused on opposing Western education
* Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
*Designated a terrorist group by US in 2013
*Declared a caliphate in areas it controlled in 2014
*Most territory now recaptured by army
The BBC explained that since the Sokoto caliphate, which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control in 1903, there has been resistance among some of the area’s Muslims to Western education.
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.
The BBC states that 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.
Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.
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.
The BBC says 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 Boko Haram as 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.
The BBC explained that Boko Haram’s trademark was originally the use of gunmen on motorbikes, killing police, politicians and anyone who criticized it, including clerics from other Muslim traditions and Christian preachers.
The group has also staged more audacious attacks in northern and central Nigeria, including bombing churches, bus ranks, bars, military barracks and even the police and UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja.
Amid growing concern about the escalating violence, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in May 2013 in the three northern states where Boko Haram was strongest – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. A state of emergency is currently in force in those three northern Nigerian states.
Thousands of reinforcements were sent to Maiduguri after the military recaptured the city from Boko Haram, the BBC said.
The group draws its fighters mainly from the Kanuri ethnic group, which is the largest in the three states. Most Kanuris have distinctive facial scars and when added to their heavy Hausa accents, they are easily identifiable to others Nigerians. As a result, the militants operate mainly in the north-east, where the terrain is also familiar to them.
The BBC stated the deployment of troops and the formation of vigilante groups drove many of them out of Maiduguri, their main urban base and they retreated to the vast Sambisa forest to the south and the Mandara Mountains, close to the border with Cameroon.
From there, the group’s fighters launched mass attacks on villages and towns, looting, killing, abducting women and children and conscripting men and boys into their army.
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, the BBC said.
“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 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.
Chadian forces helped retake town from the militants, the BBC said.
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.
The BBC further explained that 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.
The BBC article concluded: “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, the analysts say.”
Photo One: Boko Haram hoisted its flag over mosques in towns it seized (via BBC website)
Photo Two: A state of emergency is currently in effect for three states (Agence France Presse)
Photo Three: Michael Ireland
About the writer: Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Click http://paper.li/Michael_ASSIST/1410485204 to see a daily digest of Michael’s stories for ANS.
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