Mohammad Ali Babakhel
of Muhammad Yusuf — the founder of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad,
commonly referred to as Boko Haram — reportedly in police custody in 2009
transformed what was apparently a preaching group into one of the most lethal
terrorist organisations in the world.
(meaning ‘Western education is forbidden’) was established in 2002 as an
offshoot of the Salafi movement in the Yobe state of Nigeria. Between 2002 and
2008, the group largely remained dormant but after the death of Yusuf, the
outfit morphed into a threatening force comprising between 4,000 and 6,000
population is largely tribal and comprises about 350 ethnic groups speaking
roughly 520 languages. The country is administratively divided into 36 states
out of which 12 are dominated by Muslims and are mostly situated in the
northern part of the country.
Just as Al
Qaeda helped the Taliban become the brute force that they were, the
establishment of linkages with Al Qaeda in 2010 helped the Boko Haram become
proficient in making IEDs, training militants and managing the supply of
weapons and funds. In fact, the modus operandi of the group bears quite a few
striking similarities to the way the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan operated in
tribal areas here. The resemblance of their respective flags also reveals a
deeper ideological connection.
TTP, besides foreign funding, kidnapping for ransom and extortion became the
chief sources of operational expenses for the Boko Haram. Similarly, power
politics and monetary gains also divided it into several factions over the
In 2011, a
new group, the Yusufiya Islamic Movement, surfaced, expressing concern over the
deaths of civilians and calling for reconciliation with the government.
2012 another group of dissidents, Jama’atu Ansaril Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan
(‘Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa’), commonly called
Ansaru, parted ways on the plea that killing locals and the strict
implementation of Islamic law would reduce the regional appeal of the Boko
Haram. Hence, the Ansaru came to focus more on attacks against foreigners. It
became an independent organisation in 2012 and its first high-profile attack
involved a prison break in Abuja in 2012 followed by the kidnapping of a French
engineer. The group has largely been dormant since 2015.
the Boko Haram is divided into two operational factions: the Islamic State West
Africa Province (ISWAP) led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi (said to be the son of
Muhammad Yusuf) and the original Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad
commanded by Yusuf’s deputy Abubakar Shekau.
the Boko Haram’s tactics transitioned from hit-and-run attacks to elaborate
ones involving physical control of territory in north-eastern Nigeria and
certain parts of Chad, Niger and Cameroon. After assuming control of Nigerian
areas of Borno, Kano, Bauchi, Yobe, Kaduna and Adamawa in 2014, the group
announced the establishment of a ‘caliphate’ in Mubi. Strengthened by its
allegiance to the militant Islamic State group that allowed it to gain space in
sub-Saharan Africa, it increased the frequency and intensity of attacks in Nigeria
and its environs.
Just as the
support of the Mehsud, Afridi, Mohmand and Wazir tribes remained significant
for the TTP, the Boko Haram strengthened its ranks with assistance from the
Kanuri and Hausa-Fulani tribes. Since the Kanuri tribe is not limited to
Nigeria and its members also live in Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the group
attracted youth from other countries too.
2014 and 2015, Shekau established control on two-thirds of Borno state and
pledged allegiance to Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi. Sharia was enforced in occupied
areas and ‘emirs’ were appointed in weakly governed areas of Bama, Gwoza,
Damboa and Dikwa — somewhat similar to the tribal areas in Pakistan before
military operations. The Boko Haram used the Sambisa forest in Borno state
where extremists took refuge and it kept the Chibok schoolgirls.
the TTP, it first established control in rural areas before moving towards
cities. In April 2014 the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok put Boko
Haram on the global map of notoriety. Incidentally, in December the same year
the TTP would also unleash its savagery at Peshawar’s Army Public School.
Terrorism Index ranks Nigeria as the third most affected country by terrorism,
while Pakistan stays at fifth position. The Nigerian counterterrorism strategy
seems to exclusively focus on the threat posed by the Boko Haram, overlooking
the multidimensional aspects of counterterrorism. The country could learn from
efforts in Pakistan and Sri Lanka and review its counterterrorism and counter-extremism
strategies for a more holistic response.
Ali Babakhel is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.
Headline: Nigeria’s Taliban
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan