Nigeria tries to grapple with Boko Haram | Africa | DW | 13.03.2012
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Nigeria tries to grapple with Boko Haram

The Nigerian government is struggling to defeat Boko Haram amid fears that the militant Islamists's attacks will trigger reprisals. The group's sophisticated tactics leave no doubt that they are now better organized.

Nigerians have become accustomed to reading headlines telling of a policeman being shot down by gunmen, or of scores being killed in a suicide attack on a church. They may also suspect that there are many unreported attacks carried out by Boko Haram, some of which are foiled by Nigeria's security services.

According to the rights group Human Rights Watch, about 1,000 people have been killed in more than 160 militant islamist attacks in Nigeria since the summer of 2009. This spiral of violence shows no sign of letting up.

Anything Western is 'sinful'

The name Boko Haram comes from the Hausa language and means 'western education is sacrilege, or a sin.' Their main goal is to topple Nigeria's government and replace it with an Islamic state based on sharia law.

A policeman in Northern Nigeria city of Kano, stands guard at a check point.

An increased police presence has not stopped the attacks

The group sees itself as a victim of police brutality and persecution.

In an interview with DW, a member of Boko Haram who didn't want to be named, insisted that they were willing to die for what they believe in. "These government tyrants! They only care about themselves and their children," he said.

"This is why we are fighting the jihad, we are young and we shall fight to the end. Either they (government) will defeat us, or we will (defeat them)."

The group was founded by the Muslim sect leader Mohammed Yusuf, seven years before his death in 2009. Boko Haram was loosely based on the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2002, there were just a few hundred members, Today, experts estimate that number to have grown to several thousand and they form a well-trained and disciplined force.

No one knows for certain where they obtain their weapons or where they learn how to make bombs.

According to a United Nations report, Boko Haram has ties to the regional branch of al-Qaeda and has acquired arms from the stockpiles of the late Libyan dictator Moammer Gadhafi.

Abubakar Mu' azu is a political analyst from Maiduguri, a Boko Haram stronghold. He says some of the group's members have indicated that they were trained in Somalia, Afghanistan or in Mauritania.

The analyst also believes that Boko Haram is part of a bigger terror network.

Other players

Nigerian authorities have long suspected, neighboring states of Niger, Cameroon and Chad of playing a role in Boko Haram attacks. They believe new recruits to the militant cause enter Nigeria from those countries. To counter this, Nigeria has deported thousands of migrants, mostly from Niger and Chad.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (center) addressing the Emir of Kano (right) during a visit to his palace following the bomb blasts in Kano, northern Nigeria, 22 January 2012

President Goodluck Jonathan (c) seen here with the Emir of Kano (r) after a bombing in Kano

A special committee was set up to try and bring Boko Haram and the Nigerian government to the negotiating table. The committee has since said the government needs to do more to combat high levels of unemployment in northern Nigeria.

Poverty and unequal distribution of wealth are seen as factors encouraging people to join the rebels. Although Nigeria is one of the world's top oil producers, two thirds of its citizens who reside in the north, survive on less than a dollar a day.

Author: Julia Hahn / cm
Editor: Mark Caldwell / rm

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