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Nigeria Boko Haram Terrorist
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

Boko Haram: against Western values

Stefanie Duckstein and Philipp Sandner / ael
December 18, 2014

Boko Haram has been spreading terror across northeastern Nigeria since 2009. With indiscriminate killings, the militant Islamist sect is seeking to fight Western values and promote an Islamic state.


Boko Haram was founded in early 2000 in the city of Maiduguri, Borno state. It advocates a radical interpretation of the Koran and refers to itself as the "Association of Sunnis for the call to Islam and Jihad." Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf.

His first followers were unemployed students and academics graduates. They burnt their paper qualifications as a gesture of protest when joining the group, because education had not lifted them out of poverty. In addition to portraying “West education” as “sinful” Yusuf was against the rampant corruption in the country.

"In Islamic language usage "Haram" means everything that contradicts the teaching of Islam. "Boko" is borrowed from the English word book. By giving itself this name, the group - like other previous Islamic movements in northern Nigeria - is declaring its belief that "Western education" is sinful. The group's avowed objective is not just to subject northern Nigeria but the whole country to Islamic Sharia law.

The road to violence

Some years after the group was founded the rebels began carrying out sporadic attacks on state institutions. The first instance of open combat with the security forces was in Maiduguri in July 2009. 800 people lost their lives after the police took members of Boko Haram into custody. Yusuf was shot shortly thereafter while in police detention. Yusuf's killing is widely seen by observers as the reason for Boko Haram's subsequent increased readiness to resort to violence. During the month of Ramadan in 2009, heavily armed men attacked a prison freeing several hundred Boko Haram fighters.

Boko Haram members, under their new leader Abubakar Shekau, have since been carrying out regular attacks on churches and government facilities, not only in northern Nigeria but also in the capital Abuja. Widespread poverty and unemployment in northern Nigeria make it easy for Boko Haram to recruit new fighters.

Malala #bringbackourgirls Screenshot Twitter
The kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls triggered an international outcry in social mediaImage: Screenshot Twitter

The Nigerian security forces are no match for the highly armed terrorists. Police and army have been trying to subjugate Boko Haram since 2011. States of emergency have been declared repeatedly, most recently in three northeastern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa. In August 2014, the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, unilaterally declared the occupied area in the north-eastern Nigeria a caliphate. Violence by Boko Haram has claimed thousands of lives and displaced at least hundreds of thousands. Some attacks have claimed hundreds of victims. In April 2014, the group seized more than 200 students from the northern Nigerian city of Chibok. Shock and outrage at the mass kidnapping triggered the international campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Western values are the enemy

The activities of Nigeria's terrorists are well known beyond its borders. The US speculates that Boko Haram is an al-Qaeda linked network, with connections to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Somali militia group al-Shabab. In 2013, the US added Boko Haram to its official list of terrorist organizations. But it is doubtful whether such international pressure can really help to defeat Boko Haram. Islamists in Nigeria refer to such actions as international interference in the country's affairs. It tallies with their image of the enemy in the West.

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