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An Assessment of the Nigerian Terrorist Group Boko Haram

The horrific kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian school girls has drawn international attention to and condemnation of Boko Haram. While the current crisis has brought a global focus on this dangerous group, they have been engaged in terrorist activities for a number of years. In the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) September 2013 Threat Assessment, the Homeland Security Project identified previous deadly attacks perpetrated by the more than a decade-old organization and outlined their focus on creating Sharia law throughout Nigeria.

Here are some key facts about the group that appear in BPC’s report.

Threat Assessment

Since its creation in 2002, Boko Haram has only attacked international interests once, when it bombed the United Nations office in Abuja, Nigeria, in August 2011. The group has consistently shown little inclination or capacity for attacking Western targets and is principally interested in putting Nigeria under its version of Sharia law. The organization is predominantly focused on withdrawing from a society it sees as corrupt and beyond hope, and has constructed a “state within a state” with its own cabinet and religious police. Like a number of other militant groups, Boko Haram offers welfare handouts, food, and shelter to its followers, and uses the money it steals to pay the widows of slain members.

Activities Since 2010

On Christmas Eve 2010, at least six bombs were detonated near crowded churches and markets, killing dozens of people. Seventeen days later, on New Year’s Eve, ten more people died when a bomb exploded in a popular open-air market. In the summer of 2011, the group detonated its first car bomb outside the national police headquarters in June and attacked the United Nations headquarters in Abuja in August, killing and wounding dozens.

In January 2012, Boko Haram launched coordinated attacks on the police headquarters and the offices of the Nigeria Immigration Service and the State Security Service in Kano, killing more than 200. The group’s last major attack came in March of that year, when its followers burned down 12 public schools in Maiduguri and forced 10,000 students out of school. (Boko Haram, a derisive name given to the group by locals, means “Western education is forbidden.”)

Since the 2012 attacks, Boko Haram has focused on a broad array of targets, including Christians, Nigerian security and police forces, the media, schools, and politicians, though the attacks are confined to northern Nigeria.

Al-Qaeda Affiliations

According to Guardian correspondent and al-Qaeda expert Jason Burke, who was briefed on a letter that was recovered in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad and that was not included in the 17 letters seized at the compound that were later publicly released, bin Laden had taken an interest in expanding al-Qaeda’s operations to West Africa as far back as 2003 and was in direct contact with leaders of Boko Haram.

In July 2010, Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, released a statement expressing solidarity with al-Qaeda and threatening the United States, but it does not appear al-Qaeda ever formalized the partnership. The group’s main connection to al-Qaeda seems to be the funding it receives from AQIM.

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