Boko Haram: Nigerian Terrorism
The ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’ is a Nigerian terrorist organisation founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2001. According to the Nigerian Director of Defence Information, the group has existed since 1995 (Onuoha, 2010). They are well-known by their Hausa (indigenous people of Nigeria) name, Boko Haram. This is translated in English as, ‘Western education is sinful’ (Obinna, 2011).
Formed in Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria, the group was a result of the corrupting Western culture and state authority (Cooke, 2011:1) that had started to contaminate the traditions of Nigeria. Unlike many terrorist groups, Boko Haram’s attacks are limited to their own country. The group claims to have as many as 40,000 members in Nigeria, Chad, Benin and Somalia (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012:858). A large portion of their members come from the poorest classes, with “membership extended to drug addicts, vagabonds and generally lawless people” (Adesoji, 2010:100).
They are known as a violent jihadist militant organisation who strongly opposes man-made laws and science. “Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society” (Chothia, 2012). This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts, trousers and receiving a Western education. US officials have publicly declared Boko Haram a major terrorist threat who “have very explicitly and publicly voiced intent to target Westerners, and the US specifically” (Mojeed, 2011).
After Boko Haram’s leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed in police custody in July 2009, it was believed by many that Boko Haram no longer had a “clear structure or evident chain of command” (The Economist, 2011). As a result of his death, the group split up into three factions with “one wing increasingly willing to kill, as it maintains contact with terror groups in North Africa and Somalia” (Aljazeera, 2011).
Boko Haram’s motivation to attack was fuelled by the weakening economic dislocation experienced in Nigeria, prolonged military rule and the increasing strength of Islamic fundamentalists (Adesoji, 2010:96). They have since claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, including the August 2011 suicide bombing of the United Nations House in Abuja (Obinna, 2011). Boko Haram are believed to also run a number of illegal bomb-making factories (Olatunji, 2011:2).
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is no known links between the group and Australia, particularly as a majority of their attacks continue to take place on Nigerian soil. Despite this, Boko Haram was listed on the Australian National Security website as an Australian terrorist threat in June 2014.
Historical terrorism can be traced back to the earliest human interactions, such as when the Jewish used terror tactics to fight the Romans which resulted in many soldiers killed and their property destroyed (Bagaji et al, 2012:35). There have been many instances of religious terrorism from the Christian Crusades in the Islamic East in 1095, The Assassins in Persia in 1124 and the Indian Thuggee cult during the 13th and 19th centuries (Martin, 2008:111).
Upon British control of the Nigerian areas in which Boko Haram was born, the activities of the early Christians used Western education as a tool for their religious ideologies (Chothia, 2012). This was looked upon with suspicion by the Nigerian population and the increased dissatisfaction gave rise to the fundamentalists. Since the colonial times of Nigeria, the political environment has experienced sporadic violence and insecurity (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012:856).
An immediate aim of a terrorist organisation is to “commit acts of violence that draws the attention of the local populace, the government and the world to their cause” (Bagaji et al, 2012:35) with a core goal of “challenging the stability of societies” (Martin, 2008:111). During the 2009 uprising of Boko Haram, violence across several Nigerian states was reported to have left over 1,000 people dead (Umar, 2011: 12). Their first terrorist attack was said to be in Borno in January 2011 which killed four (Tribune, 2011) and since then, their attacks have increased in frequency and intensity.
A lead goal of Boko Haram is to implement strict Islamic law across the nation of Nigeria, which is home to more than 160 million people, who largely comprise of Christian or Muslim religions (Aljazeera, 2011). “Religious terrorism can be communal, genocidal, nihilistic or revolutionary” (Martin, 2008:111). Although Boko Haram appears fairly passive under these given traits, it is believed they were responsible for 620 deaths in the first half of 2012 (Umar & Adigun, 2012).
An act of terrorism is appealing for such organisations, when results would otherwise perhaps be “considered difficult or impossible to achieve in the usual political form or on the battlefield against an army” (Bagaji et al, 2012:35). The Boko Haram may not match up to the Nigerian army in terms of power, training or resources but they have the capacity to commit terrorist attacks and bomb public facilities, which the Nigerian army cannot do.
Terrorist organisations require funding for their operations and resources. According to Section 102.6 of the Criminal Code, current offences for terrorist organisations include “intentionally receiving funds from or making funds available to or collecting funds for a terrorist group (either directly or indirectly)” (Gani, n.d). Boko Haram have financed their activities through crimes such as bank robberies, particularly in the north (Aljazeera, 2011) and donations from politicians, government officials and organisations within Nigeria (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012:858). Although Boko Haram poses little threat to US interests other than US citizens and assets within Nigeria (Cooke, 2011:3), the sect is believed to be “receiving funds from al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan to recruit terrorists who would attack residences of foreigners, especially Americans living in Nigeria” (Onuoha, 2010).
The North African al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been listed on the Australian National Security website since 14 November 2002 and relisted four times (Australian National Security, 2012). To be listed on this website as a terrorist organisation, there are several requirements that must be satisfactorily proven to the satisfaction of the Attorney General. According to Division 102 of the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002, an organisation “is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur) or advocating the doing of a terrorist act”.
Like Boko Haram, the AQIM group increasingly have “adhered to al-Qaida’s extremist ideology and has declared war against foreigners and foreign interests” (Australian National Security, 2012b). Interestingly, it is believed that AQIM is “sharing funds, training and explosive materials” (Doyle, 2012) with Boko Haram and this link has been declared true both by the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau and the Nigerian government. AQIM funds itself primarily through criminal activities, particularly the kidnapping of Westerners for ransom payments (Australian National Security, 2012b) in addition to smuggling and drug trafficking (Thornberry & Levy, 2011:6). It appears that kidnapping is not yet on the criminal agenda for the Boko Haram, who appear to largely prefer bank robberies as a source of funding, although both groups commit the bulk of their crime in North Africa.
Like Boko Haram, AQIM conducts terrorist attacks against Western interests which include suicide attacks and remotely detonated roadside bombings. Assaults on military, police and government interests draw them closer to alignment with Boko Haram. Although there appears to be no specific threat to Australia by either group, AQIM have attempted to expand to European countries and have actively publicized the need to target the “US, French and other Western interests… into Western Europe” (Australian National Security, 2012b). Contrasting this, Boko Haram is internally focused, “principally aimed at portraying the Nigeria government as ineffective” (The Nation, 2012).
Freedom fighters never consider themselves the bad guys and instead “perceive themselves as legitimate fighters for a legitimate cause” (Aly, 2011: 2). Boko Haram believes that Nigeria should be an Islamic state and fight for this cause, often attacking government institutions, particularly the police as well as churches. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a freedom fighter as “a person who takes part in a resistance movement against an oppressive political or social establishment” (2012a). This definition appears to deny Boko Haram the label of a freedom fighter, as there is no resistance movement other than their desires for civilians to refrain from western ideals with their cause being far from political. In addition, Macmillan Dictionary defines a freedom fighter as a person who “someone who opposes a cruel or unfair government by fighting against it using weapons, usually as part of an organized group.” (2012). Again, this disqualifies Boko Haram from being labelled a freedom fighter.
Boko Haram’s attacks that kill innocent bystanders share strong traits with the definition of a terrorist, which according to Dictionary.com is defined as “a person who terrorises or frightens others” (2012). This definition is very general, therefore it could define a criminal on the streets but for this purpose, it appears to be central to Boko Haram’s goals to enforce Nigeria as an Islamic state. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion” (2012b), making it the best fitting definition for Boko Haram. Their attacks within the Nigerian community aim to make Nigeria an Islamic state, coercing the citizens to negate any trace of Western ideals and in particular, Christianity.
In historical cases such as the rise of Christianity to power in the empire of Constantine, religious fanatics viciously repressed all non-Christians and “all Christians who did not line up with official Orthodox ideology, policy and practice” (Harold, 2004:42). This continued well into the Middle Ages with the Crusades, who were sanctioned by the Pope to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims (Selengut, 2008, p.22). Boko Haram is attempting to repress the Nigerian civilians with violence in an effort to make them conform to Islam and it appears they fall fairly strongly in this category of a religious fanatic.
Boko Haram fit the category of a terrorist organisation, despite limiting their attacks to Nigeria. They tick the boxes for many characteristics such as their alliance with AQIM – a terrorist organisation listed by the Australian National Security website, they use methods to fund their resources and operations at the same time as receiving donations, they use terror to try and coerce citizens to convert to Islamic rule rather than Christianity and innocent bystanders have been targeted in their campaign through the bombing of Christian churches. In addition, they also appear to be religious fanatics, perhaps not as strongly as they fit in the terrorist category. The freedom fighter does not appear to fit Boko Haram, as generally, an organisation that fights under this banner must be fighting for a political cause and/or suffers oppression, tyranny or dictatorship.
As a result of the killing of Mohammed Yusuf in 2009 whilst in police custody, Boko Haram have experienced a fracture in leadership which has led to an opportunity for authorities to engage in negotiation and dialogue, although the demands of Boko Haram tend to be improbable (Cooke, 2011:3). The United States has currently refrained from adding Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organisation, regardless of the limited threat to US soil because of beliefs that listing them could “complicate efforts to negotiate a truce… scholars contend it could actually make Boko Haram stronger” (Murdock, 2012).
It is expected that Boko Haram will remain a stable organisation unless the Nigerian authorities introduce a “political, economic and security strategy that offers some promise of real improvement to northern populations and communities” (Cooke, 2011:3) in order to disable the appeal of the Boko Haram. Currently to date, Nigeria’s governmental response has been ineffective, leaving Boko Haram to act with freedom to carry out their will (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012:854). Perhaps to prohibit Boko Haram from continuing their terrorist acts, may require a stronger external force such as the US army to implement measures to shut them down, as seen in the attempts on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
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