Boko Haram made international news in April after abducting over 200 Nigerian girls from a school in Chibok, but their campaign began in 2009 and the group was founded 12 years ago. The terrorist group, declared as such by the United States in 2013, is reported to have killed over 5,000 people in the past four and a half years. The campaign has accelerated, causing approximately 1,800 deaths since the beginning of this year, and Boko Haram’s fight for Islamic rule in Nigeria continued Thursday with an attack on three villages in Borno.
Gunmen on motorcycles and in all-terrain vans killed anywhere from 35-45 people in Gumushi, Amuda, and Arbokko. Residents of the villages in the restive northeast state were assaulted both by guns and petrol bombs, which were thrown into homes, burning down the village. As is the custom with the terrorist group, the attackers wore military uniforms. At least a dozen people were reported to have fled into neighboring Cameroon and are being treated for injuries there, according to an anonymous eyewitness.
“Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad” is the official Arabic name of the group, which translates to “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” The shortened name of “Boko Haram” came from its strict opposition to Western education. In Hausa, the language of the small city of Maiduguri, where the group makes its headquarters, the nickname has come to mean “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram operates based on a passage from the Koran, which states that anyone not governed by the revelations of Allah is counted as a transgressor. Muslim citizens who participate in democratic elections, wear Western-inspired clothing such as shirts and trousers, or engage in secular education are considered the enemy.
Money has played its part in the division of Nigeria. As one of the most unequal countries in terms of wealth distribution, the southwestern states of the country—which are prominently Christian—have a larger percentage of the nation’s wealth than the more Muslim-populated states of the north. President Goodluck Jonathan, who is a Christian, has been criticized for neglecting the northern states in favor of the more developed southern states.
President Jonathan spoke to the media on Thursday, which was also Nigeria’s Democracy Day, declaring a full-scale offensive against Boko Haram. Nigerian forces are already stretched thin across the north, and the president did not clarify what the offensive would entail. A state of emergency has long since been declared for the country and a full scale military campaign has been ongoing for a year, as the death count has risen exponentially in Boko Haram’s continued attempts to bring Nigeria under Islamic rule.
Other African countries are becoming involved in the situation as well. Idriss Deby, President of Chad, mentioned “total war” after a meeting in Paris earlier this month, where neighboring West African states attempted to develop a common strategy for the situation.
Jonathan promised parents and worried citizens that the abducted schoolgirls would be rescued and Boko Haram would be defeated “by any means necessary.” Nigerian military intelligence stated it knows the location where the girls are being held, but will not attack for fear of harming innocent lives.
Thursday morning’s attack showed that Boko Haram has not given up on its terrorist campaign, despite military resistance and global public outrage toward their continued efforts to rule Nigeria as an Islamic state. Though an international movement has swept the internet in an effort to rescue the kidnapped schoolgirls, Boko Haram has not given any signs of relenting. If the escalation continues at this rate, this year’s deaths will surpass the numbers from the last four years combined.
By Christina Jones