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 and Abuja.


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.


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: 2013 New video reveals the tactical, equipment level and training of Boko Haram Nigeria terrorist group before the May 14 declaration of state of emergency against them. Boko Haram had targets which included, Obama, Nigeria's president Jonathan and Sagir Musa, JTF boss.

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.
Geographic: Image: Boko Haram propaganda banner
Ideology: Religious -- Islamic (Wahabb)
Tactics: Arson / vandalism / assassination / murder / bombings / kidnapping. Boko Haram’s associated incidents could be divided into two distinct phases, with the emancipation of radicalization a common thread.
Targets: Government (law enforcement) / Religious (groups) / Businesses / Religious (churches) / NGOs / Political Leaders / Banks / Beer and Poker Halls / Schools and Universities / Media Houses / Foreigners
Abubakar bin Mohammad aka Abubakar Shekau -- originally deputy commander now LEADER, Muhammad Yusuf, deceased -- FOUNDER and ORIGINAL LEADER, Abul-Qaqa aka Abu al-Qaqa -- (spokes person denied by Shekau 02/13), Abu Zinnira -- spokesman as of 03/13, Kabiru Sokoto (suspected bomber of 2012), Khalid al-Barnawi, Mamman Nur, Salisu Mohammed, Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulazees - declared ceasefire 02/13, ‘Asalafi’ -- claimed to be Minister of Defence, ‘Danladi’ -- claimed to be Vice President, ‘Doctor’ -- bomb making expert, Suleiman - leader of the Abuja sect

Map of Incidents

Map indicates Boko Haram linked attacks since July 2009:

Embedded image permalink

Map Notes: 2014: Retrieved from:


Focused in Northern Nigeria, Boko Haram is known to target non-Muslims living in Northern Nigeria and other civilians; however, they are also known for attacking fellow Muslims to enforce their interpretation of Islam. Espousing a strict hatred towards state authority, both to the governor and the police, the group has threatened Jihad against the government; often targets Igbo civilians, a predominately Christian ethnic group. 2009 an initiative by the Nigeria military to eradicate Boko Haram led to the death of the sect’s leaders, hundreds of their members and the destruction of their communities and properties. 2010 transformed into a Jihadist group claiming their rights as Muslims to use force against injustices done to them. In the spring of 2012 Boko Haram went on a rampage against army officers, high ranking civil servants, United Nations workers, and other perceived supporters of the Nigerian government. It claimed responsibility for burning a dozen government supported schools that displaced thousands of children from their classrooms. 2013 Boko Haram starts implementing international attacks, (kidnappings of foreigners, as well as kidnapping across borders in Cameroon), with Shekau's endorsement. April 2013 clashed with Nigerian security forces resulting in 180 dead and the destruction of 2,000 homes. June 2013 Young men known as "Civilian JTF," armed with knives, machetes and sticks took to the streets searching, targeting and attacking suspected fighters and members of Boko Haram. Boko Haram members allegedly attacked people who cooperate with the Nigerian military, known as the Joint Task Force (JTF). In response to such attacks, the Civilian JTF was formed to support Nigerian soldiers in their offensive against radical Islamic extremists in north east Nigeria. FROM TRAC CONTRIBUTOR Jasmine Opperman:Boko Haram real strength is in its ability to continuously change its strategies and tactics to adapt to counter terrorism efforts by the Nigerian Government. Since Boko Haram’s first attack on Bauchi prison in September 2010, the group has adopted increasingly sophisticated tactics, with the most recent being a focus on mass killings of civilians in the Borno and Yobe states. Boko Haram’s tactics include the use of official military uniforms of the Nigerian Defense Force that allows not only effective cover for open presence but also the staging of snap road blocks. These snap road blocks are mostly conducted at main highways in the north eastern parts that resulted in an increase in attacks on villagers and travellers since August 2013. A media report during October 2013 stated that on the highway from Benisheik to Maiduguri, Boko Haram killed over 200 people. Consequently it entrenched local community perceptions that Boko Haram dominates the areas of operation. In addition, access to official uniforms does present a probability of collusion with Nigerian officials and military units, therewith adding to Boko Haram’s sustainability as the most pronounced threat in Northern Nigeria. In this regard Nigerian Government senators in Northern Nigeria have been accused of such collusion.

A summary of major attacks by Boko Haram:

  • 24 December 2010: A series of bombs allegedly planted by the group explode in the central Nigerian city of Jos, killing 80 people.
  • 04 November 2011: Boko Haram members bomb government buildings and shoot their way through the city of Damaturu, killing more than 100 people, while bombs and a suicide attack in Maiduguri leave 4 dead.
  • 25 December 2011: Boko Haram claims responsibility for a Christmas Day attack on a Catholic church in Madalla near Nigeria's capital and two churches elsewhere that kill at least 42 people.
  • 20 January 2012: Boko Haram claims responsibility for a series of coordinated bombings and gun battles around the city of Kano that kill at least 185 people.
  • 26 January 2014: Boko Haram militants blow up the main market with homemade bombs, shoot at people and then set huts on fire in Kawuri village, killing at least 85 people.
  • 16 February 2014: Boko Haram militants attacked numerous villagers and slit the throats of others, killing more than 50 people in Izghe village in Borno state. This follows a Nigerian bombing campaign against the group.
  • 19 February 2014: Boko Haram attacks the agricultural and commercial centre in Bama town, killing at least 115 people, destroying more than 1,500 homes and destroying some 400 vehicles. The attack comes the same day the leader of the terrorist network warns leading Nigerian Muslim political, religious and traditional leaders that his fighters will target them for pursuing democracy and Western-style education.
  • 25 February 2014: Suspected Boko Haram fighters killed at least 59 students at a boarding school in Yobe state, locking some into a dormitory and burning them alive.
  • 14 March 2014: Boko Haram launches an assault on the main Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri and claims to have freed 2,000 detainees held there. The battle that ensues kills about 425 people, mainly detainees that included civilians.
  • 14 April 2014: An explosion believed caused by a bomb buried in the ground exploded at a bus station Abuja federal capital, killing at least 71 people and wounding 124.

Video Notes: April 2014: BBC Report on Abuja bus bombing that killed approximately 70 people

  • 14 April 2014: Boko Haram abducted approximately 100 girls at a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, west of Maiduguri.

Associated Groups

Associated Articles

Theater of Operations

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