Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has long suffered from Islamist insurgency. The most prominent regional group is Boko Haram, a radical Islamist movement that is suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda.
Founded in 2002 by Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram initially opposed Western education, but soon expanded its agenda to establishing an Islamic state on the territory of Nigeria.
Launching military operations in 2009, the group sought to gain control over larger territories in the northern part of the country, eventually seizing the city of Maiduguri. Though the militants were soon driven out of their stronghold, Boko Haram still maintains a strong presence in the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The situation in the northern part of Nigeria is different from that in the south because the country is in fact split, says Dr. Irit Back, Africa expert at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies at the Tel-Aviv University.
“Nigeria is between predominantly Christian south and predominantly Muslim north. But I think that’s much more than religion because if we look at the conflicts in the last decades, it’s mostly about the democratization process in Nigeria which brought into the surface a lot of issues concerning political domination and the problem of economy,” Dr. Irit Back said.
In pursuing its political agenda, Boko Haram employs such terrorist tactics as urban bombing campaigns, drive-by shootings and cross-border kidnappings. The group, designated as a terrorist organization by the US in 2010, has recently made headlines around the world committing its so far most outrageous and bizarre crime. In April 2014, militants kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok, saying it intends to sell them. Though Boko Haram is certainly not the first group of this kind in Nigeria, their tactics are drastically different, says Elizabeth Donnelly, Africa Program Manager with the Chatham House in London, UK.
“It’s the kind of violence that it has been using, its terrorist tactics. So, it’s a very Nigerian group but it’s possible, given the sophistication of their attacks, given how organized they are becoming, that they are learning from other places in the world and other groups in the world,” Elizabeth Donnelly said.
Nigeria was estimated to have had the highest number of terrorist killings in the world over the past year. More than 3,400 people were killed in 146 attacks in 2013. The Nigerian government has been largely criticized for its insufficient response to the growing terrorist threat in the country. And while the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan struggles to stabilize the situation in the north, the conflict may spill across the border to neighboring Cameroon.