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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs