News / Africa

Boko Haram Increases Deadly Attacks on Civilians in Northern Nigeria

People look at the damages after two explosions rocked a crowded neighborhood of Nigeria's restless northeastern city of Maiduguri, a stronghold of Boko Haram, on March 2, 2014.
People look at the damages after two explosions rocked a crowded neighborhood of Nigeria's restless northeastern city of Maiduguri, a stronghold of Boko Haram, on March 2, 2014.
Anne Look
The militant group known as Boko Haram has waged a nearly five-year insurgency in northern Nigeria. The government launched a military offensive against the sect in May 2013, but attacks against civilians have intensified, leading some to wonder what Boko Haram really wants and whether the insurgency has spun out of control.  
 
Boko Haram's response to the now 10-month-long military offensive has included an increase in attacks on civilians. Militants have raided villages, slaughtered travelers on the highway and mowed down teenagers in school dormitories.
 
The governor of Borno state said in March Boko Haram is "better armed and better motivated" than the Nigerian military. The question is: motivated by what?
 
The radical sect was founded in the early 2000s with the goal of bringing "pure" Islamic rule to the Muslim-majority northeast.
 
But the brutality of the past year raises the question: Is this a fight for a cause or is it just a murderous rampage?
 
"That's the question everybody is asking," said Fredrick Nwabufo, a Nigerian newspaper columnist and social commentator. "What does Boko Haram want?"
 
Some say years of corruption and deepening poverty have fueled the sect. But he argues that Boko Haram was born out of what he calls the "ultra-religiousness" of Nigerian society.
 
He doesn't think they have lost sight of their original goals, despite what he calls their more "aggressive tactics."   
 
"Now they are trying to bite anyway they can," said Nwabufo. "That is what we are seeing, but it doesn't change the fundamental thing that Boko Haram is fighting for… They are fighting for control. That is what they want. They believe that sharia law should be the rule, should be what guides Nigerians, should be what the state should live by."
 
Nigeria's military has painted Boko Haram as increasingly disorganized and "on the run." Analysts tell VOA otherwise. They say the pattern and organization of attacks over the past year indicate an intact command structure.
 
Boko Haram always has been a constellation of factions and cells -- some more moderate than others, some closer to al-Qaida and with more "international" jihadist agendas. A splinter group, Ansaru, has kidnapped and killed Westerners.
 
And yet, so much about Boko Haram is simply not known.
 
The group's origins are somewhat clear. The sect's founder, Imam Mohammed Yusuf, had a cult-like following. He preached in the open until 2009. His sermons made the rounds of the north for years via cell phones and DVD's.  
 
He preached against Western civilization and what he said was a corrupt Nigerian elite. He said the solution was a "pure" Islamic state in the north. He preached jihad.
 
The group launched an uprising in July 2009, sparking a bloody police crackdown in which Yusuf was arrested and killed. At least 700 people died in this initial bout of fighting.
 
Yusuf's deputy, Abubakar Shekau, then took over the sect. In a video in July 2010, he declared that "jihad has only just begun."   
 
Shekau became the public face of the now clandestine group, sending out messages by video. Experts say a desire for retribution against those who allegedly "betrayed" the group has become a recurrent theme. The group's list of declared enemies has only grown.
 
But while the sect's tactics have evolved over the years, its core causes have not disappeared. Shekau talks about them in a recent video released in February.  
 
His speech is punctuated by gunshots. "The Quran must be supreme," he said. "We must establish Islam in this country."   
 
He makes some new threats, but he also covers familiar territory. He vows to kill Christians "wherever they find them" and claims responsibility for killing a Nigerian Islamic cleric who opposed them. He threatens other prominent Nigerians.
 
He calls them "infidels."  "What makes you infidels," he says, "is democracy and constitution and Western education."
 
He said Boko Haram "enjoys shedding their blood." That again raises the question - is all this violence really just a means to an end?

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs