Boko Haram: Who are they and Why are they a Threat?

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The name ‘Boko Haram’ is one that we have been hearing with increasing frequency in the media. It refers to a Nigerian militant Islamist movement affiliated with Al Qaeda and ISIS. First formed in 2002, the group was catapulted to prominence in April 2014 over the kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in  Chibok, Nigeria. Since then they have launched numerous attacks on the people of Nigeria and Cameroon, declaring the border region between Nigeria and Cameroon to be part of an Islamic caliphate. It came into media attention this year for its two attacks on the military bases of Baga and Kolofata in Cameroon.

In the last year, Boko Haram has developed from a niggling concern to a threat that merits careful understanding. There is, firstly, the perplexing tendency for the Nigerian government to underestimate the casualty rate of Boko Haram’s vicious attacks, so as to undermine the political instability in Nigeria. Thus, accurate intelligence on the size of the group remains elusive – estimates vary from 500 to 9000.

But the most disturbing feature about the organisation is their purposeless violence. The group is condemned by even other Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda for the kidnap and attempt to auction the kidnapped girls. Even Abubakar Shekau – Boko Haram’s ringleader – admits the senselessness of their violence. Unfortunately, there is little use in hoping that Al-Qaeda’s criticism will moderate the cult-like group. For several years now, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda have been (and will be, in the foreseeable future) uneasy alliances , as rumours of their mutual affiliation fortify their notoriety to the outside world and their reputation in Islamist circles.

Taking into consideration the aforementioned factors, there is no need to further stress why future headlines containing the term ‘Boko Haram’ should inspire concern amongst us, at the very least.

A man holds a sign that reads "Stop Boko Haram" at a rally to support Chadian troops heading to Cameroon to fight Boko Haram in Ndjamena

Photograph: Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

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