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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid