Boko Haram's brutal attacks are a serious threat, not only to Nigeria's north region. The terror group seems to be well trained and has been linked to al-Qaeda. Nigeria is responding by tightening security controls.
Boko Haram's orchestrated attacks on Nigeria's northern city of Kano on January 20, 2012 were the deadliest attacks by the terror group so far. More than 20 bomb blasts left over 180 people dead and destroyed police stations, adjacent houses and cars.
Since the beginning of 2012, the terror group has continuously launched - or tried to launch - attacks on almost a daily basis. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 900 people have died since attacks started in the summer of 2009. The 2011 Christmas Day bombings in Abuja which killed over 40 people reminded the international community of Boko Haram's dangerous potential. The spiral of violence is spinning faster and faster in Nigeria.
Jihad 'made in Nigeria'
In the Hausa language, Boko Haram means "Western education is sacrilege" and therefore must be banned. Boko Haram members consider themselves to be victims of police violence and persecution.
"These government tyrants! They only care about themselves and their children - this is why we are fighting the jihad," a Boko Haram member who didn't want to give his name told DW. "We are very young and we've sworn to fight to the end. They will either defeat us, or we'll defeat them."
The Islamic sect plans to overthrow Nigeria's government and establish an Islamic state based on Shariah law. The terror group only consisted of some few hundred members when Mohamed Yusuf founded Boko Haram in early 2002. But today, experts estimate the number has grown to several thousand - and the fighters are well-trained and disciplined. But little more is known about the terror group. No one knows how and where they obtained their weapons - Kalashnikovs, for instance. It's also unclear where they were trained to make bombs.
Nigeria's authorities suspect neighboring states of providing an influx of new terror fighters. "The borders to Niger, Chad and Cameroon are very porous, Boko Haram is able to roam freely in these areas," said Abubakar Mu'azu, a political analyst from Maiduguri which is the sect's spiritual home in Borno State.
Nigeria regards many migrants with suspicion. The authorities said they have expelled 11,000 people in the last six months - mostly migrants from Niger and Chad. But human rights activists say most of them were actually children and youths who were attending Islamic schools.
Links to al-Qaeda
Boko Haram's terror has recently become increasingly professional. Suicide bomber attacks now happen more frequently. According to a UN report, Boko Haram has ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and has acquired weapons from the stocks of former Libyan dictator Gadhafi. Some Boko Haram members from Nigeria and Chad went to al-Qaeda's terror camps last summer, the UN report says.
"Several members have indicated that they have been trained in Somalia, Afghanistan and Mauritania. So this is not just about the Maghreb region, but about a much bigger network," analyst Mu'azu said. These links have to be taken seriously, because they could become a serious threat for international security, he added.
President Goodluck Jonathan's government is seeking to defeat Boko Haram by increasing its military forces and tightening security controls.
"I'm really concerned," Mu'azu said. "Instead of responding with force, the government should finally start to talk to the group's key figures."
That's an approach that's also supported by a government committee on Boko Haram, if the rebels agree to renounce violence. But the government also needs to tackle high unemployment rates in Nigeria's north, the committee's White Paper says, as poverty and unequally distributed wealth are reasons why people turn to the rebels. In Boko Haram's stronghold in the north, two-thirds of the population live on less than one dollar (0.76 euros) per day, even though Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil producers.
Author: Julia Hahn / sst
Editor: Susan Houlton