Overview

Also known as:

Executive Summary:

Boko Haram is an ISIS-aligned jihadist group based in northeastern Nigeria, also active in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.“Chapter 6. Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, accessed October 2016, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2015/257523.htm. The group promotes a Salafist-jihadist brand of Islam and seeks to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in Nigeria.“Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Adds Boko Haram to Its Sanctions List,” United Nations Security Council, May 22, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11410.doc.htm;
Mohammed Aly Sergie, and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, last modified March 5, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.
To achieve this goal, the group has carried out largescale attacks inside Nigeria, including an attack on the U.N. headquarters in Abuja in 2011,Ibrahim Mshelizza, “Islamist sect Boko Haram claims Nigerian U.N. bombing,” Reuters, August 29, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-nigeria-bombing-claim-idUSTRE77S3ZO20110829. the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in April 2014,Kevin Sieff, “Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls two years ago. What happened to them?,” Washington Post, April 14, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/14/boko-haram-kidnapped-276-girls-two-years-ago-what-happened-to-them/. and the multi-day massacre of the northern town of Baga and surrounding villages in January 2015 that killed approximately 2,000 civilians.Amina Abubakar and Faith Karimi, “2,000 feared killed in 'deadliest' Boko Haram attack in Nigeria,” CNN, January 12, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/09/africa/boko-haram-violence/;
“Nigeria's Boko Haram: Baga destruction ‘shown in images,’” BBC News, January 15, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30826582.

As noted by the U.N. Security Council, Boko Haram has maintained ties to al-Qaeda’s North African branch, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Various Boko Haram members trained and fought alongside AQIM in Mali before returning to Nigeria.Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Adds Boko Haram to Its Sanctions List,” United Nations Security Council, May 22, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11410.doc.htm. In March 2015, however, longtime Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS on behalf of the Nigerian terror group.“Islamic State 'accepts' Boko Haram's allegiance pledge,” BBC News, March 13, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31862992. In August 2016, following months of mounting tension between Shekau and ISIS leadership, ISIS unilaterally announced a replacement for Shekau, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, though Shekau refused to cede authority to the new leader. Boko Haram militants have subsequently been divided in their loyalties to Shekau and Barnawi, with the two factions occasionally engaging in clashes, resulting in the death of several of Shekau’s associates.“Boko Haram breaks up ,” Economist, August 11, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21704917-militants-divide-over-murder-muslims-boko-haram-breaks-up;
Agence France-Presse, “Rival Boko Haram groups clash in NE Nigeria: sources,” Daily Mail (London), September 7, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3777612/Rival-Boko-Haram-groups-clash-NE-Nigeria-sources.html;
Adam Withnall, “Boko Haram descends into in-fighting as reports emerge of deadly clashes between rival Islamist factions,” Independent (London), September 8, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/boko-haram-descends-into-in-fighting-as-reports-emerge-of-deadly-clashes-between-rival-islamist-a7231726.html.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri, Nigeria, by a Salafist cleric named Mohammed Yusuf. Although Yusuf called for the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria, at the time he did not pursue violence as a means to achieve it.Mohammed Aly Sergie, and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, last modified March 5, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739. That approach changed in 2009, when Boko Haram members took up violence in response to a Nigerian government crackdown and the killing of its leader.George Gorman, “Nigerian Taliban leader killed in custody,” Long War Journal, July 31, 2009, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/07/nigerian_taliban_lea.php;
Mohammed Aly Sergie, and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, last modified March 5, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739;
“Boko Haram attacks – timeline,” Guardian (London), September 25, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/25/boko-haram-timeline-nigeria.
Boko Haram has since launched paramilitary campaigns targeting the Nigerian government and its neighbors as well as dozens of terrorist attacks, increasingly perpetrated by child suicide bombers.Mohammed Aly Sergie, and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, last modified March 5, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739;
Camila Domonoske, “Boko Haram Increasingly Using Children In 'Suicide' Attacks, UNICEF Says,” NPR, April 12, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/12/473920159/boko-haram-increasingly-using-children-in-suicide-attacks-unicef-says.
In addition, the fluid security situation in and around Nigeria has enabled militants to cross into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, in order to evade Nigerian security forces and carry out regional attacks.“Chapter 6. Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, accessed October 2016, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2015/257523.htm. The terror group has been responsible for the death of approximately 20,000 people since 2009.“Nigeria Security Tracker,” Council on Foreign Relations, accessed October 17, 2016, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/nigeria-security-tracker/p29483.

Though originally an underground movement, Boko Haram has seized and held land in northeastern Nigeria in order to realize its vision of an Islamic state. Between 2011 and 2015, the group captured territory roughly the size of Belgium. Since 2015, the Nigerian military has dislodged Boko Haram from almost all of the territory it previously controlled.John Campbell, “What Makes Boko Haram Run?,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 5, 2016, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/makes-boko-haram-run/p37838;
David Blair, “Boko Haram is now a mini-Islamic State, with its own territory,” Telegraph (London), January 10, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/11337722/Boko-Haram-is-now-a-mini-Islamic-State-with-its-own-territory.html.
As of January 2017, however, the group continues to hold swathes of territory in northeastern Nigeria, including the towns of Baga, Bama, Gwoza, and Gulani, and their environs.“Map: Boko Haram territory in Nigeria,” Telegraph, January 31, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/11339781/Map-Boko-Haram-territory-in-Nigeria.html.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari prematurely declared victory against Boko Haram in December 2015, though the announcement was followed by successive suicide bombings perpetrated by the terror group in the country’s northeast.“We have defeated Boko Haram, December deadline met, Nigeria says,” Premium Times (Abuja), Decmeber 23, 2015, http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/195668-we-have-defeated-boko-haram-december-deadline-met-nigeria-says-2.html;
Conor Gaffey, “Buhari’s Boko Haram Deadline in Doubt After Attacks Kill Almost 50,” Newsweek, December 29, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/buharis-boko-haram-deadline-doubt-after-attacks-kill-almost-50-409609.
The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union.“Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram and Ansaru,” U.S. Department of State, November 13, 2013, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/11/217509.htm;
“Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Adds Boko Haram to Its Sanctions List,” United Nations Security Council, May 22, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11410.doc.htm;
Official Journal of the European Union, Volume 57, May 29, 2014, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2014:160:FULL&from=EN.

Doctrine:

Boko Haram subscribes to a Salafist-jihadist ideology. Before rebranding as the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiya) in March 2015,Alex Thurston, “‘The disease is unbelief’: Boko Haram’s religious and political worldview,” The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World 22, no. 58, January 2016, 9, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Brookings-Analysis-Paper_Alex-Thurston_Final_Web.pdf. the group commonly referred to itself as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnar Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, which broadly translates to “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad.”Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 5, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739. Boko Haram—the name given to the group by the Hausa-speaking residents in northeast Nigeria—translates to “Western education is sin.”“Who, What, Why: Exactly what does the phrase Boko Haram mean?,” BBC News, May 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27390954.

Like other Salafist groups, Boko Haram seeks to exemplify the community of Muslims (salafs, or ancestors) who lived during and immediately after the time of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.“Salafi,” Oxford Islamic Studies Online, accessed October 2016, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t125/e2072;
Alex Thurston, “‘The disease is unbelief’: Boko Haram’s religious and political worldview,” The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World 22, no. 58, January 2016, 9, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Brookings-Analysis-Paper_Alex-Thurston_Final_Web.pdf.
The group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, trained as a Salafist preacher and adhered to the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya, a 14th century scholar who preached tenets of Islamic fundamentalism.Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 5, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739;
Alex Thurston, “‘The disease is unbelief’: Boko Haram’s religious and political worldview,” The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World 22, no. 58, January 2016, 9, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Brookings-Analysis-Paper_Alex-Thurston_Final_Web.pdf.
Following Yusuf’s death in 2009, the group took up the practice of takfir, whereby a Muslim is able to excommunicate and kill other Muslims whom they deem to be non-believers. In defending the right to kill his “non-believing” coreligionists, Shekau has claimed that a nonbeliever’s supposed “ignorance” of Boko Haram’s tenets should not be “taken into consideration” before killing him.Alex Thurston, “‘The disease is unbelief’: Boko Haram’s religious and political worldview,” The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World 22, no. 58, January 2016, 9, 14, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Brookings-Analysis-Paper_Alex-Thurston_Final_Web.pdf.

Because of the group’s decentralized structure, not all fighters necessarily follow Salafi-takfirist doctrine.Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 5, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739. Indeed, many members may be non-religious individuals motivated by real and perceived grievances including failures of local governance, sectarian tensions between Christians and Muslims, and the large economic disparity in Nigeria.Lauren Ploch, “Nigeria: Current issues and U.S. policy,” Congressional Research Service, November 15, 2013, http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc272109/m1/1/high_res_d/RL33964_2013Nov15.pdf, 13;
Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, “Boko Haram,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 5, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739.
Nonetheless, a strain within Boko Haram adheres to violent and extremist practices that even ISIS has at times deemed too brutal.Max Siollun, “The Jihadi Too Violent for ISIS,” Foreign Policy, October 3, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/10/03/the-jihadist-too-violent-for-isis-boko-haram-shekau/.

Some analysts have suggested that in recent years, the group has fragmented between factions stressing the need to build stronger links with international terrorist organizations and factions that seek to maintain the group’s exclusively domestic focus with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria.Lauren Ploch, “Nigeria: Current issues and U.S. policy,” Congressional Research Service, November 15, 2013, http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc272109/m1/1/high_res_d/RL33964_2013Nov15.pdf, 13. In March 2015, Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS on behalf of his terror group. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accepted the pledge later that month.“Islamic State 'accepts' Boko Haram's allegiance pledge,” BBC News, March 13, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-31862992.

Organizational Structure:

Boko Haram is a fractious terrorist group with a decentralized organizational structure. Below the group’s leader sits the Shura Council, a 30-member decision-making body that commands the group’s regional cells. These cells differ by location and tactical specialization, ranging from combat troops, explosives experts, welfare service providers, intelligence and surveillance, and a medical committee.“Nigeria: Examining Boko Haram,” Stratfor, July 15, 2014, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/nigeria-examining-boko-haram;
“Chapter 6. Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, accessed October 2016, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2015/257523.htm.

While its core fighters are believed to number in the low hundreds, thousands of locals may sympathize with and fight for the terror group. The U.S. State Department has estimated that there are at least several thousand troops fighting for Boko Haram as of 2015.“Nigeria: Examining Boko Haram,” Stratfor, July 15, 2014, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/nigeria-examining-boko-haram;
“Chapter 6. Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, accessed October 2016, https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2015/257523.htm.
Due in part to counterterrorism efforts under President Buhari—as well as severe food shortages in northeast Nigeria—this number is believed to have fallen throughout 2016 and early 2017.David McDougall, “Far from finished,” VICE News, November 3, 2016, https://news.vice.com/story/boko-haram-is-weakened-but-far-from-defeated;
Dionne Searcey, “Boko Haram Falls Victim to a Food Crisis it Created,” New York Times, March 4, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/05/world/africa/boko-haram-food-crisis.html?_r=0.
In December 2016, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said that Boko Haram likely lost a “significant number of fighters…lessening the overall capability of the organization.” Nevertheless, AFRICOM estimated that the group still has a “few thousand members.”John Vandiver, “AFRICOM: Boko Haram weakened in 2016 but still a threat,” Stars and Stripes, December 30, 2016, https://www.stripes.com/news/africom-boko-haram-weakened-in-2016-but-still-a-threat-1.446689. Evidently not included in these estimates are the approximately 10,000 boys reportedly abducted and trained by Boko Haram between 2014 and 2016.Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson, “The 10,000 Kidnapped Boys of Boko Haram,” Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-kidnapped-boys-of-boko-haram-1471013062.

Boko Haram was founded and led by Salafist preacher Mohammed Yusuf until his death by the Nigerian military in 2009.“Curbing violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram insurgency," International Crisis Group, Africa Report No 216, April 3, 2014, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/nigeria/curbing-violence-nigeria-ii-boko-haram-insurgency. Abubakar Shekau emerged as the group’s leader in July 2010,“Profile: Boko Haram,” Al Jazeera, December 31, 2010, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2010/12/2010123115425609851.html. and became known for ordering attacks on mosques and using children as suicide bombers.Conor Gaffey, “What We Know About Boko Haram’s Factional War,” Newsweek, September 8, 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/boko-haram-isis-abubakar-shekau-abu-musab-al-barnawi-496615. In early 2012, a group calling itself Ansaru, or “The Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa,” broke away from Boko Haram after citing disagreements with the group’s indiscriminate killing of Muslim civilians.“Boko Haram : Splinter group, Ansaru emerges,” Vanguard (Lagos), February 1, 2012, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2012/02/boko-haram-splinter-group-ansaru-emerges/;
Conor Gaffey, “What is Ansaru, the Other Militant Islamist Group in Nigeria Besides Boko Haram?,” Newsweek, April 4, 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/what-ansaru-nigerias-other-militant-group-443785.
The offshoot reportedly packaged itself as the “humane” alternative to Boko Haram, and said it would focus attacks on Christians and the Nigerian government.“Proscribed Terrorist Organizations,” U.K. Home Office, accessed October 2016, 8, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538297/20160715-Proscription-website-update.pdf. Its leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, is believed to have previously trained with al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, AQIM.Jacob Zenn, “Ansaru: Who Are They And Where Are They From?,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 1, 2013, http://blogs.cfr.org/campbell/2013/07/01/ansaru-who-are-they/. When Ansaru was designated by the United Kingdom in November 2012, the Home Office referred to the group as “broadly aligned with [al-Qaeda].”“Proscribed Terrorist Organizations,” U.K. Home Office, accessed October 2016, 8, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538297/20160715-Proscription-website-update.pdf.

Analysts have suggested that Boko Haram and Ansaru remain operationally linked. Security analyst Jacob Zenn has said that Ansaru acts as an “external operations unit” of Boko Haram,Jacob Zenn, “Leadership Analysis of Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria,” Combating Terrorism Center, February 24, 2014, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/leadership-analysis-of-boko-haram-and-ansaru-in-nigeria. while analyst David Otto has said that the two groups work together “towards a common goal.”Ludovica Iaccino, “Boko Haram splits as Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi fight for leadership,” International Business Times, August 4, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/boko-haram-splits-abubakar-shekau-abu-musab-al-barnawi-fight-leadership-1574271. Zenn has also suggested that in working alongside Boko Haram, Ansaru’s militants have prioritized operational success over ideological disputes with Abubakar Shekau.Jacob Zenn, “Northern Cameroon Under Threat from Boko Haram and Séléka Militants,” Jamestown Foundation, January 9, 2014, https://jamestown.org/program/northern-cameroon-under-threat-from-boko-haram-and-seleka-militants/#. Nigerian authorities reportedly captured Ansaru’s leader Khalid al-Barnawi in April 2016.“Khalid al-Barnawi: Nigeria Islamist group head 'arrested',” BBC News, April 3, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35956301. According to a September 2016 report by Jacob Zenn, Ansaru has been relatively “quiet,” though Nigerian security reports indicate that the group is still active.Jacob Zenn, “Making sense of Boko Haram’s different factions: Who, how and why?,” African Arguments, September 20, 2016, http://africanarguments.org/2016/09/20/making-sense-of-boko-harams-different-factions/.

In August 2016—nearly a year and a half after Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS under Shekau—the Nigerian terror group split into warring factions: one loyal to Shekau, and the other to ISIS-appointed leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi.“Boko Haram breaks up ,” Economist, August 11, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21704917-militants-divide-over-murder-muslims-boko-haram-breaks-up;
“Hearing to Consider the Nominations of: Lieutenant General Thomas D. Waldhauser, USMC, to be General and Commander, United States Africa Command; and Lieutenant General Joseph L. Lengyel, Ang, to be General and Chief of the National Guard Bureau,” Committee on Armed Services, June 21, 2016, 64-65, http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/16-62_06-21-16.pdf.
The split came after ISIS announced Barnawi’s appointment on August 2nd,قطـع طريـق إمـداد الرافضـة إلـى معسـكر القيارة,” al-Naba, August 2, 2016, 8, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/the-islamic-state-e2809cal-nabacc84_-newsletter-4122.pdf. and Shekau swiftly released an audio message in which he denied the leadership change and referred to ISIS’s announcement as a coup.Associated Press, “Abubakar Shekau says he still leads Boko Haram,” USA Today, August 4, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/08/04/shekau-boko-haram-islamic-state/88071714/;
“Isis tries to impose new leader on Boko Haram in Nigeria,” Guardian (London), August 4, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/05/isis-tries-to-impose-new-leader-on-boko-haram-in-nigeria.
Shekau nonetheless reportedly reaffirmed his pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, referring to Baghdadi in subsequent audio recordings as “caliph.”Conor Gaffey, “Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau Rejects New Leader, Suggesting Split with ISIS,” Newsweek, August 4, 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/boko-harams-abubakar-shekau-rejects-new-leader-suggesting-split-isis-487143;
Jacob Zenn, “Making sense of Boko Haram’s different factions: Who, how and why?,” African Arguments, September 20, 2016, http://africanarguments.org/2016/09/20/making-sense-of-boko-harams-different-factions/.
The two factions were reported to have clashed in the following months, resulting in the death of several of Shekau’s associates.Agence France-Presse, “Rival Boko Haram groups clash in NE Nigeria: sources,” Daily Mail (London), September 7, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3777612/Rival-Boko-Haram-groups-clash-NE-Nigeria-sources.html;
Adam Withnall, “Boko Haram descends into in-fighting as reports emerge of deadly clashes between rival Islamist factions,” Independent (London), September 8, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/boko-haram-descends-into-in-fighting-as-reports-emerge-of-deadly-clashes-between-rival-islamist-a7231726.html.

The August 2016 split followed months of growing tension within Boko Haram’s ranks. In June 2016, U.S. Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser told the senate that several months earlier, “about half” of Boko Haram’s militants had split from Shekau due to his alleged failure to adhere to ISIS’s counsel. According to Waldhauser, Shekau had not obeyed ISIS’s orders to stop attacking other Muslims, and to cease using children as suicide bombers.“Hearing to Consider the Nominations of: Lieutenant General Thomas D. Waldhauser, USMC, to be General and Commander, United States Africa Command; and Lieutenant General Joseph L. Lengyel, Ang, to be General and Chief of the National Guard Bureau,” Committee on Armed Services, June 21, 2016, 64-65, http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/16-62_06-21-16.pdf.

Boko Haram has long been a fractious organization composed of various factions and offshoots. As of 2017, the largest divide exists between those loyal to Shekau and those loyal to Barnawi. Another bloc, led by longtime Boko Haram and Ansaru member Mamman Nur, is believed to support ISIS, though Nur has a reported history of operational closeness with AQIM.Jacob Zenn, “Making sense of Boko Haram’s different factions: Who, how and why?,” African Arguments, September 20, 2016, http://africanarguments.org/2016/09/20/making-sense-of-boko-harams-different-factions/;
“12 January 2017, Briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun,” United nations, accessed February 3, 2017, http://www.un.org/undpa/es/node/183840.

Financing:

In the early 2000s, Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf reportedly received funding from Osama bin Laden, who distributed $3 million to Nigerian Salafi groups.“Curbing violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram insurgency,” International Crisis Group, Africa Report No 216, April 3, 2014, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/nigeria/curbing-violence-nigeria-ii-boko-haram-insurgency;
Robin Simcox, “Boko Haram and defining the ‘al Qaeda network,’” Al Jazeera, June 6, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/boko-haram-al-qaeda-201463115816142554.html.
Today, Boko Haram is believed to rely on a combination of local funding sources and lucrative criminal activity, particularly kidnapping for ransom. Its members have kidnapped foreigners and wealthy Nigerians since early 2013. The group has also reportedly received $3.15 million from French and Cameroonian negotiators in exchange for a French family the group abducted from northern Cameroon in February of that year. U.S. officials have estimated that Boko Haram receives approximately $1 million for the kidnapping and release of each wealthy Nigerian it abducts.Phil Stewart & Lesley Wroughton, “How Boko Haram is beating U.S. efforts to choke its financing,” Reuters, July 1, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-usa-nigeria-bokoharam-insight-idUSKBN0F636920140701;
Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Evolving Tactics and Alliances in Nigeria,” Combating Terrorism Center, June 25, 2013, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-harams-evolving-tactics-and-alliances-in-nigeria.

Boko Haram is also believed to finance itself through bank robberies, protection money from local governors, and foreign donations.Peter Weber, “Who’s financing Boko Haram?” The Week, May 12, 2014, http://theweek.com/article/index/261388/whos-financing-boko-haram. It is suspected that the group also receives funding from local religious sympathizers and individuals opposing the Nigerian government.Phil Stewart & Lesley Wroughton, “How Boko Haram is beating U.S. efforts to choke its financing,” Reuters, July 1, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-usa-nigeria-bokoharam-insight-idUSKBN0F636920140701. Some security analysts have noted that Boko Haram may be less reliant on large funding streams because it does not purchase sophisticated weaponry and runs low-cost operations.Phil Stewart & Lesley Wroughton, “How Boko Haram is beating U.S. efforts to choke its financing,” Reuters, July 1, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-usa-nigeria-bokoharam-insight-idUSKBN0F636920140701.

The group has received limited funding from AQIM, but that support has reportedly had little impact on Boko Haram’s overall funding. Since the group pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015, this source of funding may have dried up, given the enmity and competition between al-Qaeda and ISIS. Boko Haram’s financial relationship with other extremist groups also appears limited.Associated Press, “76 Hungry Boko Haram Members Surrender,” U.S. News, March 2, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2016-03-02/76-hungry-boko-haram-members-surrender-to-nigerian-military. In 2016, reports emerged of starving Boko Haram members surrendering to Nigerian security forces, indicating that the group was continuing to suffer from major financial strains.Associated Press, “76 Hungry Boko Haram Members Surrender,” U.S. News, March 2, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2016-03-02/76-hungry-boko-haram-members-surrender-to-nigerian-military.

Recruitment:

Nigerians are likely to join Boko Haram for a variety of reasons. Among these motivations are belief in the group’s religious ideology, coercion tactics by Boko Haram soldiers, and local grievances, which may include insufficient access to government employment opportunities and other basic services, as well as humanitarian rights abuses such as unlawful arrests and torture. Recruits may also be drawn to join the group due to familial ties to other members.Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram Recruitment Strategies,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 16, 2013, http://blogs.cfr.org/campbell/2013/04/16/boko-haram-recruitment-strategies/;
“Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth,” Mercy Corps, April 2016, https://d2zyf8ayvg1369.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf;
Adam Nossiter, “Abuses by Nigeria’s Military Found to Be Rampant in War Against Boko Haram,” New York Times, June 3, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/04/world/africa/abuses-nigeria-military-boko-haram-war-report.html.

Increasingly, Boko Haram is believed to forcibly conscript its members.Farouk Chothia, “Boko Haram crisis: How have Nigeria's militants become so strong?,” BBC News, January 26, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30933860;
“Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth,” Mercy Corps, April 2016, https://d2zyf8ayvg1369.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf.
Between 2014 and 2016, the group reportedly abducted 10,000 boys and trained them as foot soldiers.Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson, “The 10,000 Kidnapped Boys of Boko Haram,” Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-kidnapped-boys-of-boko-haram-1471013062. One such individual told humanitarian aid agency Mercy Corps: “[Boko Haram] invaded our village and asked all the youth to come out and follow them or be killed….after they killed the first person who complained of this, we all followed them.”“Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth,” Mercy Corps, April 2016, https://d2zyf8ayvg1369.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf. Boko Haram is believed to send many of these conscripted recruits to Cameroon where they are “re-educated” with Boko Haram’s ideology, according to analyst Jacob Zenn.Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram: Recruitment, Financing, and Arms Trafficking in the Lake Chad Region,” Combating Terrorism Center, October 31, 2014, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-haram-recruitment-financing-and-arms-trafficking-in-the-lake-chad-region.

Boko Haram has also attempted to recruit members by offering financial loans, referred to by the Nigerian military as “clandestine dispensation.”Radina Gigova, “Boko Haram luring young people with loans, Nigerian military says,” CNN, April 21, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/21/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-loans-entrepreneurs/;
“Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth,” Mercy Corps, April 2016, https://d2zyf8ayvg1369.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf.
Such financial support may be attractive to aspiring business owners already disillusioned by the severe lack of economic opportunity in northern Nigeria. These individuals are believed to either accept loans from the group prior to joining, or join with the expectation of receiving the funds.“Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth,” Mercy Corps, April 2016, https://d2zyf8ayvg1369.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf. Either way, “the payment has been surreptitiously programmed to fail by the benefactor, the Boko Haram,” according to an April 2016 statement by the Nigerian military.Radina Gigova, “Boko Haram luring young people with loans, Nigerian military says,” CNN, April 21, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/21/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-loans-entrepreneurs/.

Training:

At the start of Boko Haram’s military campaign in 2009, its members used elementary tactics, such as drive-by shootings, which did not require advanced training. That process changed as the group began employing more advanced forms of weaponry, including explosives assembled by members who had previously trained alongside al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram: Recruitment, Financing, and Arms Trafficking in the Lake Chad Region,” Combating Terrorism Center, October 31, 2014, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-haram-recruitment-financing-and-arms-trafficking-in-the-lake-chad-region.

Boko Haram has revealed little about how it trains its soldiers. Besides operating training camps in Nigeria,“Nigeria Bombs Boko Haram Training Camps,” Huffington Post, February 19, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/19/nigeria-bombs-boko-haram_n_6713298.html. the group is believed to train its soldiers in Cameroon“Cameroon army says dismantles Boko Haram training camp,” Reuters, December 22, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cameroon-boko-haram-idUSKBN0K01IA20141222. and Somalia.“Nigerian Boko Haram fighters trained in Somalia: president,” Reuters, February 14, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-boko-haram-idUSKCN0VN0MF. In early 2015, Boko Haram alluded to its indoctrination and training of children when it released photos via Twitter depicting child soldier training camps.Jack Moore, “Boko Haram Release Shocking Images of Child Soldier Training Camp,” Newsweek, January 26, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/boko-haram-release-shocking-images-child-soldier-training-camp-302000. The group has reportedly trained children as young as 6 years old to carry bombs into mosques and market places.Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson, “The 10,000 Kidnapped Boys of Boko Haram,” Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-kidnapped-boys-of-boko-haram-1471013062. In addition, many of the women and girls abducted by the terror group in recent years have been forced to carry out suicide missions.Dionne Searcey, “Boko Haram Turns Female Captives Into Terrorists,” New York Times, April 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/08/world/africa/boko-haram-suicide-bombers.html?_r=028448,d.cWw.

Key Leaders

History

 

Violent Activities

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

June 21, 2012: The State Department designates Boko Haram leaders Abubakar Shekau, Khalid al-Barnawi, and Abubakar Adam Kambar as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.“Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram Commander Abubakar Shekau, Khalid al-Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar,” U.S. Department of State, June 21, 2012, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/06/193574.htm. November 13, 2013: The State Department designates Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorists.“Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram and Ansaru,” U.S. Department of State, November 13, 2013, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/11/217509.htm.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

Australia—listed Boko Haram as a terrorist organization on June 26, 2014.“Australian National Security,” Australian Government, accessed August 22, 2014, http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/Boko-Haram.aspx. Canada—listed Boko Haram as a terrorist entity on December 24, 2013.“Currently listed entities,” Public Safety Canada, accessed August 22, 2014, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2051.
United Nations—the UN Security Council’s al Qaeda Sanctions Committee added Boko Haram to its list of designated entities on May 22, 2014. “Currently listed entities,” Public Safety Canada, accessed August 22, 2014, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2051. EU—designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation on May 28, 2014.Official Journal of the European Union, Volume 57, May 29, 2014, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2014:160:FULL&from=EN.
“How Boko Haram is beating U.S. efforts to choke its financing,” Reuters, July 1, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-usa-nigeria-bokoharam-insight-idUSKBN0F636920140701.

Associations

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
Boko Haram has received limited funding from AQIM.“How Boko Haram is beating U.S. efforts to choke its financing,” Reuters, July 1, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-usa-nigeria-bokoharam-insight-idUSKBN0F636920140701. Boko Haram members have also allegedly attended AQIM training camps.Robin Simcox, “Boko Haram and defining the ‘al Qaeda network,’” Al Jazeera, June 6, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/boko-haram-al-qaeda-201463115816142554.html.
Al-Shabab
According to the U.S. military, there are indications that al-Shabab and Boko Haram are allegedly sharing money and explosive material.David Smith, “Africa's Islamist militants 'co-ordinate efforts in threat to continent's security,’” Guardian, June 26, 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jun/26/africa-islamist-militants-coordinating-threat.
Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)
The two organizations appear to support each other’s operations. Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram’s international connections,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, January 14, 2014, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-harams-international-connections.
ISIS
In March 2015, Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS in an audio message.Nima Elbagir, Paul Cruickshank and Mohammed Tawfeeq, “Boko Haram purportedly pledges allegiance to ISIS,” CNN, March 9, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/07/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-isis/index.html. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accepted the pledge soon after.Hamdi Alkhshali and Steve Almasy, “ISIS leader purportedly accepts Boko Haram's pledge of allegiance,” CNN, March 12, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/12/middleeast/isis-boko-haram/. As of March 2016, approximately 1,000 Boko Haram operatives are believed to be fighting alongside ISIS in Libya. ISIS operatives reportedly hire special smugglers to transport Boko Haram militants quickly from Nigeria to Libya, avoiding typical stops on the smuggling route.Callum Paton, “Isis in Libya: How Boko Haram jihadis are flocking to join Daesh’s holy war in North Africa,” International Business Times, March 5, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-libya-how-boko-haram-africas-jihadis-are-flocking-join-daeshs-holy-war-1547640.

Ties to other entities:

Saudi Arabia
Boko Haram appears to have some connections to Saudi Arabia. The group has allegedly received funding from Saudi organizations and Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf allegedly sought refuge there from Nigerian security forces in 2004.Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram’s international connections,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, January 14, 2014, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/boko-harams-international-connections.
 

Media Coverage

  • Western Media

    Until the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Chibok in April 2014 leading to a global outcry and large-scale media coverage of Boko Haram, Western...

Rhetoric

View All

Abubakar Shekau, video message released on YouTube, December 29, 2016

“Our mission is to establish an Islamic caliphate [in Nigeria].”Associated Press, “Boko Haram leader: ‘The battle is just beginning,’” USA Today, December 31, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/12/31/boko-haram-leader-battle-just-beginning/96034042/.

Abubakar Shekau, video message released on YouTube, December 29, 2016

“I am here, well and alive…the battle is just beginning.” Associated Press, “Boko Haram leader: ‘The battle is just beginning,’” USA Today, December 31, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/12/31/boko-haram-leader-battle-just-beginning/96034042/.

Abubakar Shekau, audio message released on YouTube, November 13, 2016

To the West:

“…The war has just begun.”Agence France-Presse, “Boko Haram leader warns Trump ‘war has just begun,’” Yahoo News, November 14, 2016, https://www.yahoo.com/news/boko-haram-leader-warns-trump-war-just-begun-093829678.html.

Abu Musab al-Barnawi, interview in ISIS’s magazine al-Naba, August 2016

“[We will] booby-[trap] and [blow] up every church that we are able to reach, and [kill] all of those who we find from the citizens of the Cross.”Dionne Searcey and Eric Schmitt, “Boko Haram May Have a New Leader, ISIS Magazine Suggests,” New York Times, August 3, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/world/asia/boko-haram-may-have-a-new-leader-isis-magazine-suggests.html.

Abu Musab al-Barnawi, interview in ISIS’s magazine al-Naba, August 2016

“[Boko Haram] remain[s] a force to be reckoned with.”“Boko Haram in Nigeria: Abu Musab al-Barnawi named as new leader,” BBC News, August 3, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36963711.

Abubakar Shekau, audiotape released on social media, September 19, 2015

“Buhari is a liar and has deceived you. The army spokesman is also lying. We are alive, I am alive, this is my voice, more audible than it was before. This is Shekau. He and his footsoldiers always run helter-skelter whenever we come face to face with them... Buhari, you once claimed that you will crush us in three months. How can you crush us?”Agence France-Presse, “Boko Haram leader dismisses Nigerian military claims,” Yahoo News, September 19, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/boko-haram-leader-dismisses-nigerian-military-claims-215252023.html.

Abubakar Shekau, August 16, 2015

“It is indeed all over the global media of infidels that I am dead or that I am sick and incapacitated and have lost influence in the affairs of religion. Gratitude be to Allah and with his help, I have not disappeared. I am still alive and I am not dead. And I will not die until my time appointed by Allah is up.”Agence France-Presse, “Boko Haram leader Shekau says he is ‘still in charge’,” Yahoo News, August 16, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/boko-harams-shekau-says-still-alive-still-charge-163016566.html.

Abubakar Shekau, August 16, 2015

“This ostentatious person, a liar -- I mean Buhari, who raised arms to crush us in three months. You Buhari, why didn't you say in three years? We will certainly fight you by the grace of Allah until we establish Allah's law everywhere on Earth.”Agence France-Presse, “Boko Haram leader Shekau says he is ‘still in charge’,” Yahoo News, August 16, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/boko-harams-shekau-says-still-alive-still-charge-163016566.html.

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