Boko Haram just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its establishment. Every year, the Nigerian terrorist group, which has gained a foothold in the neighboring African countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, appears to be growing stronger. Pictured: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, from a November 2018 propaganda video by the group.
Boko Haram, the ISIS-aligned group seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria, just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its establishment. Contrary to initial and subsequent assessments, however, the terrorist group, also known as Islamic State's West Africa Province (ISWAP), was not to be easily defeated. On the contrary, every year, the jihadist group, which has gained a foothold in the neighboring African countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, appears to be growing stronger.
Suicide bombings and other deadly attacks committed by Boko Haram terrorists over the past decade have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people, while more than two million others have been displaced. These figures do not even include the thousands of women and children abducted, some of whom, according to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), "have been forced to carry out suicide missions."
The CEP explains:
"Boko Haram has increased the number of female suicide bombers due to the easy concealment of weapons under hijabs and Islamic customs that forbid men to frisk women."
According to International Christian Concern (ICC), so far in 2019, Boko Haram has kidnapped 179 people in Niger alone, mostly women and girls, a number that amounts to nearly one person per day. This does not include the many unreported abductions or those that took place in Nigeria or Cameroon.
ICC's regional manager for Africa, Nathan Johnson, recently told Gatestone that "this increase in abductions in Niger is worrying, because it shows that Boko Haram's influence and power are spreading."
"Islamic extremism has found a home in Africa for multiple reasons. The first is insecurity. A lack of governmental control has allowed jihadist groups to hold vast areas of land and have sway over millions of people's lives. This provides the terrorists with space to train and rest, a population from which to recruit operatives and the opportunity to raise or steal money.
"The second reason is poverty and illiteracy. Millions families live in the poorest of circumstances in Africa's Sahel region. Four of the 10 countries in the Sahel are among the 25 poorest countries in the world. Their lack of money means that infrastructure, education and healthcare, among other things, suffer. With all of these issues, extremist groups find an easy source of volunteers when they are able to offer money and power.
"The third reason is easy access to weapons. With funding and support from outside sources such as ISIS, groups like Boko Haram can easily get weapons that match or beat those of the local militaries of these countries. When Muammar Gaddafi fell in Libya, a flood of weapons hit the black market and were made available to terror groups across West Africa. This has made it easier for them to attack both civilians and soldiers, as well as capture lands.
"Finally, Islam holds a historical claim to much of Africa. It is clear that the farther north in Africa you go, the stronger Islam's hold. Many North African countries also already adhere to a very strict and extreme interpretation of Islam. Mauritania, Algeria and Sudan, for instance, constantly persecute Christians and other non-Muslims. This means that they are also more likely to support terrorist groups that share their beliefs. Sudan is a known supporter of terrorism, for example.
"Nigeria has been the most devastated by Boko Haram, which roughly translates as 'Western education is forbidden.' Until very recently, the Nigerian government continued to claim that Boko Haram was defeated. Although the terrorist group did lose territory and power between 2015 and 2017, however, it has regained almost all of it. Nigeria's government has proved itself to be incompetent at best, and at worst, complicit in the attacks.
"Many groups have been working for years in Nigeria to help those most affected by Boko Haram. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), for example, gives billions of dollars in aid to northeastern Nigeria. The problem is that aid, which helps fix small amounts of damage, is not a sufficient answer. As long as groups such as Boko Haram are able to keep destroying whole villages and infrastructure -- while devastating populations -- NGOs will never be able to keep up. The attacks have to stop before there can ever be real healing in those areas."
Boko Haram's campaign of death and destruction includes:
- An attack on the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, in 2011.
- The abduction of nearly 300 children from the mostly Christian town of Chibok, Nigeria in 2014. About 112 Chibok schoolgirls are still missing.
- The multi-day massacre of the northern town of Baga and surrounding villages in 2015 that killed approximately 2,000 civilians;
- The 2018 attack on a military base in Borno state, which left about 100 soldiers dead;
- The July 2019 attack on a funeral gathering in northeastern Nigeria, in which 65 people were killed;
- The July 2019 release of a video of six Christian aid workers in Nigeria begging for their lives after being kidnapped by Boko Haram
- The July 29, 2019 attack on the Christian village of Kalagari in northern Cameroon, reportedly kidnapping at least eight Christian women and cutting off their ears.
- The August 2019 night raid in southeastern Niger, which left 12 villagers dead.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.