Boko Haram

The group Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad, known as Boko Haram, is an extremist Islamic group in Nigeria that has engaged in guerrilla warfare across the north of Nigeria. Its violent attacks on government offices, the United Nations, and civilians threaten to destabilize Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.  A range of conflicting narratives persist around Boko Haram, and the group’s origins, motivations, and future plans remain a matter of debate.


Despite heightened security efforts, the group has managed to continue with its attacks. Since its inception, Boko Haram's primary areas of focus have been in the northern states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna, although recent trends suggest that activities are moving southwards, with attacks being recorded in Plateau state, Abuja and Lagos (one suicide bombing incident). Jacob Zenn, in an article titled Boko Haram Opens New Fronts in Lagos and Nigeria’s Middle Belt and published by the Jamestown Foundation, refers to three zones of operations by Boko Haram. These three zones are reflected in the following map illustration:

Jacob Zenn uses the suicide bombing incident at Apapa port in Lagos on 25 June 2014 as well as three warnings by Boko Haram's leader, Shekau, during the preceding six months that an attack in southern Nigeria is imminent, as indication of Boko Haram's expansion trajectory into southern areas of Nigeria, referred to as Zone 3. 


Since its renaissance following the near terminal battle of Maiduguri in the summer of 2009, Boko Haram has been on an upward trajectory. Over the past three years it has embraced ever more ambitious goals (from encouraging northern Muslims to live more piously to turning Nigeria into an Islamic state), extended its area of operations (attacking targets as far south as Abuja), lengthened its list of targets (there is now no-one it is not prepared to kill), and developed its operational capabilities (its 2011 assault on the UN was the first suicide bombing ever carried out in Nigeria).


Arguably these latest attacks mark the next stage in the group’s evolution and offer vital and disturbing insights into how it might develop in the future. The assaults on Gujba, Benisheik, Dumba and Mamudo not only confirm many of the group’s earlier developments but also Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) growing influence over it. These atrocities bear striking similarities to those carried out by AQIM and its various forbears in Algeria in the mid-1990s.



  1. The first is the indiscriminate killing of its members. In return, Boko Haram’s leaders encourage its members to target people and institutions that have harmed it: policemen, officials, prison guards, clerics and journalists who speak out against it. Its members have twice attacked This Day, a newspaper close to the government.
  2. Boko Haram’s second grievance is economic inequality. It blames the government at every level for corruption and greed. Nigeria earns roughly $50 billion a year from its southern oil yet its northern citizens hardly benefit at all.
  3. The most recent pull factor is Boko Haram’s emancipation into a radicalised Islamic organisations where influences from groups like al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Shabaab could be observed in the increase in intensity and nature of attacks.  These influences are two pronged, namely direct (contact between groups and support networks) and indirect (copy-cat actions).


Also indicative of Boko Haram’s possible links with AQIM is its posting of video messages, which conform to an al-Qaeda, international jihadi “style”, and a new online presence - a tactic taken to a new level by al-Shabaab with its launch on Twitter. In the aftermath of the UN embassy bombing, Agence France Presse obtained a video in which Mohammed Abul Barra, a 27-year-old from Maiduguri, explains his reason for driving an explosive-laden car into the UN.  The speed at which the group developed the capability to produce large and effective improvised explosive devices and enlist suicide bombers to deliver them suggests links to groups like AQIM.


On June 14, 2010, Abu Musab Abd al-Wadoud, the leader of AQIM told Al Jazeera that his group would provide Boko Haram with support and weapons to build strategic depth in Africa. Following the announcement several reports stated Boko Haram member presence at AQIM training camps in the Sahel and that some of them even had received training from the jihadist group al Shabaab in Somalia.


Boko Haram is highly diverse: different areas and states host different cells or nodes of the group, and these operate in different ways, often with apparently little coordination or communication, resulting in confusing and contradictory statements and moves on the potential for peace. This intra-group diversity and factionalism are reason to be cautious about generalisations about the group, as various local manifestations may evolve, transform and act in unexpected ways. An example of intra-group diversity is seen in the use of cells within communities to ascertain forewarnings of Nigerian security force movements as well as accessing weapons and finances. On 30 June 2014, Nigerian authorities announced the arrest of three members belonging to a Boko Haram “terrorist intelligence cell”. Those arrested are:

  • Babuji Ya'ari, a businessman that reportedly "participated actively" in the mass kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls during April 2014.  A Nigerian Defence Ministry spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade, said in a statement that Ya'ari belonged to the Youth Vigilante Group popularly known as Civilian JTF (a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram) and used this membership as cover "while remaining an active terrorist." Olukolade's statement also accused Ya'ari of "spearheading" the June 2914 assassination of the emir of Gwoza and coordinating attacks that have killed hundreds in Maiduguri (Borno state): "Babuji has been coordinating several deadly attacks in Maiduguri since 2011, including the daring attacks on customs and military locations as well as the planting of IEDs (explosive devices) in several locations.”

Photo Notes: 1 July 2014: Babuji Ya’ari following his arrest (Premium Times Nigeria)

  • Haj Kaka (female), which according to Olukolade was a spy for Boko Haram and also procured arms for the group;
  • Hafsat Bako (female), which is being referred to as a paymaster for Boko Haram as she was paying Boko Haram fighters. Bako reportedly told Nigerian soldiers that Boko Haram fighters are paid a minimum of 10,000 naira (about $60) depending on the task.

Olukolade’s full statement reads:


A terrorists’ intelligence cell headed by a businessman who participated actively in the abduction of School Girls in Chibok has been busted by troops. The man, Babuji Ya’ari who is also a member of the Youth Vigilante Group popularly known as Civilian JTF which he uses as cover while remaining an active terrorist, also spearheaded the murder of the Emir of Gwoza. His main role in the group is to spy and gather information for the terrorists group.

Babuji has been coordinating several deadly attacks in Maiduguri since 2011, including the daring attacks on Customs and military locations as well as the planting of IEDs in several locations in the town.

The arrest of the businessman who is known to deal in tricycles has also yielded some vital information and facilitated the arrest of other members of the terrorists’ intelligence cell who are women. One of them, Hafsat Bako had earlier escaped to Gombe State to avoid suspicion but was tracked and arrested. Prior to her arrest, Hafsat coordinated the payment of other operatives on the payroll of the group. In her confession, she disclosed that a minimum of N10,000 is paid to each operative depending on the enormity of his task.

Another female suspect named Haj Kaka who doubles as an armourer and a spy for the terrorists group has also been arrested. Until their arrest, all the suspects actively operated a terrorists’ intelligence cell in collaboration with others still at large.

Female Recruitment Cell

On 4 July 2014, the Nigerian military announced the arrest of three suspected female terrorists who it accused of covertly recruiting females for the “women wing of Boko Haram”. The three suspects, Hafsat Bako, Zainab Idris and Aisha Abubakar, were detained while travelling in Adamawa State. According to defense officials, the three arrested women were planning to go to the forest outside Madagali to meet up with members of Boko Haram. Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu (Director of Nigerian Defence Information) said that the arrests followed a failed suicide bombing attempt on a military facility by a female terrorist in Gombe. He added that: “Investigations revealed that the suspects, led by Hafsat, have the mission to recruit members into the female wing of the terrorist group as well as conduct espionage for the group.” The arrested females’ strategy was to lure women, more specifically widows and young girls, by enticing them with male suitors who are mainly members of Boko Haram for marriage. Hafsat Bako, was reportedly married to a member of Boko Haram, Usman Bako, who was killed by the military.

PHOTO: Boko Haram female accomplice, informant arrested

Photo Notes: 3 July 2014: Hafsat Usman Bako

Troops uncover more members of Boko Haram female wing, 3 members arrested (PHOTOS)

Photo Notes: 3 July 2014: Zainab Idris

Troops uncover more members of Boko Haram female wing, 3 members arrested (PHOTOS)

Photo Notes: 3 July 2014: Aisha Abubakar


It is precisely this factionalism and which has lead to the second significant, emergent organised Islamist group, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (also known as JAMBS or Ansaru), which has targeted western civilian targets and does appear to foster international links and areas of activity beyond Nigeria. Although Boko Haram's and Ansura split in 2012, their ties remain murky. in April 2013 a Boko Haram spokesman announced "They (Ansaru) are with us now. Whenever we hear of oppression, we do operations together." In November 2013, the U.S. Department of State announced the designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. 


Seond phase of attacks (see incident section below) Boko Haram perpetrated numerous killings, bomb and suicide bomb attacks, prison breaks, and kidnappings throughout the country. During 2012 the sect expanded its campaign of assaults and bombings from Borno, Bauchi, and Yobe states to Adamawa, Kano, Kaduna, Kogi, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, and Taraba states. The sect claimed responsibility for

  • coordinated assaults on multiple targets in Kano on 20 January 2012;
  • the suicide bombing of churches in Kaduna and Jos on Easter;
  • the suicide bombings of the This Day newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna on April 26;
  • the kidnapping and killing of British, Italian, and German hostages;
  • the bombing of multiple churches in Bauchi, Plateau, and Kaduna states in June 2012; prison breaks in Lokoja and Abuja; and
  • the killing of government, religious, and traditional figures.


Video: 2013 A video of the French family kidnapped in northern Cameroon, group claiming to be Boko Haram threatens to execute family. Feb 2013.

Video: 2012 Propaganda video of  sucide attack onThis Day newspaper offices in Abuja and Kaduna on April 26.

Video: March 14, 2014 Boko Haram attacked Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State in Nigeria’s northeast.  To demonstrate how easily they raided the barracks, they produced the video of the operation, with their leader, Abubakar Shekau warning of further bloodshed, including against civilians.  The video shows extremists shooting confidently in the Nigerian army's main barracks in north-eastern Nigeria and meeting no resistance during the raid.  The video also shows Islamic extremists breaking into a notorious detention center in the barracks and freeing hundreds, including militants. 

Boko Haram, also known as Jama'at Hijra Wa Takfir (JHWT), Nigerian Taliban, Taliban, Western Civilization is Forbidden, Western Education Is Sin, Western Education is Sacrilege, Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings), Group for the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad is an active group formed c. 2002.

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