Who is Boko Haram?

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A truck promotes the #BringBackOurGirls hash tag used by protesters of the 2014 Chibok kidnapping by the Islamic terrorist group, the Boko Haram.

Jessica Layton, Staff Writer

On April 15, 2014, nearly 300 girls were taken from their beds at Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group. A few managed to escape and hide in the nearby forest, while 276 of the girls went missing. Currently, 246 Nigerian girls are still missing, now for over over a month. Boko Haram, who has since claimed responsibility for the attack, has recently gained worldwide publicity.

Logo_of_Boko_Haram.svg
CC ArnoldPlaton.
The logo of the Boko Haram.

By their actions, it appears that Boko Haram’s focus is on dismantling the Nigerian government, destroying anything affiliated with Western Education, and reforming Nigeria to an Islamic state. According to an article, “Background Briefing: What is Boko Haram?”, published by PBS News Hour on PBS.org, “The country is split between Muslims and Christians, with 10 percent of the people following indigenous sects. Nigeria has long grappled with how to govern a diverse nation in which the struggle between Christians and Muslims over political power remains a significant factor in the ongoing unrest.” The belief in distancing Nigeria from the Western world is largely exhibited in the group’s actions, particularly evident in the mass abduction of the girls who were in school at the time of the kidnapping. In the local Hausa language, the group’s name, Boko Haram, translates to “Western education is sin.”

The story of the girls’ abduction first gained traction when an original video was released by Abubakar Shekau, who is claiming to be the group’s leader. This video conveyed the purpose of the attack on the girls. According to a CNN translation of the video, Shekau states, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I will sell women.” It is likely that the girls will be sold into “marriages” which consist of nothing more than domestic slavery. This aligns with Boko Haram’s beliefs that women should be submissive to men and remain uneducated.

The abduction and Boko Haram’s intent for the young girls has sparked international outrage, with the public demanding the immediate retrieval of the girls. A global figure for female empowerment and education, Malala Yousafzai, who survived a gunshot to the head delivered by members of the Taliban for attending school, has taken on the cause. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Yousafzai referred to the kidnapped girls as her ‘sisters’. She also had a message for the Boko Haram, insisting that, “They [Boko Haram] should go and they should learn Islam, and I think that they should think of these girls as their own sisters…”

Yousafzai isn’t the only activist fighting to get the girls back; other figures, such as former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and actress, Emma Watson, also took to social media to voice their support of the missing girls. The hashtag, #Bring Back Our Girls, gained momentum on the social media site Twitter with various public figures tweeting it.

With such overwhelming support for the girls, who have been missing for over a month, why has there not been a successful rescue yet? Many are pointing fingers to the Nigerian government and President Goodluck Jonathan who initially attempted to downplay the threat the terrorist group posed. According to a CNN report, Doyin Okupe, a spokesman for Jonathan, addressed the issue, “The President and the government (are) not taking this as easy as people all over the world think.”

According to BBC News, Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh has said, “The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are.” However, he also admitted that he could not reveal their location due to the girls’ safety. He added, “But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.”

Also under public fire is former Secretary of State and potential presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. While in office, she failed to deem Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization until last November, despite recommendations from the Homeland Security Report in 2011. In the November 2011 Homeland Security Report, Boko Haram was issued at number two as a threat for future terrorist attacks. The report read, “Boko Haram has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with Al Qaeda in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al Shabaab.”

This news comes as a surprise to many as the April 15 mass abduction was not the first of the group’s violent activity. According to CNN.com, on August 26, 2011, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a United Nations embassy in Abuja, killing 23 people and injuring more than 80. According to the New York Times, in 2012, Boko Haram militants stormed a prison in northern Nigeria, freeing 40 inmates. In the days following that attack, 40 additional people died in crossfire between members of Boko Haram and security forces in the Yobe capital. The New York Times also reported that during an attack in January of 2012, as many as 300 more people were killed by the group.

It is clear that no matter the outcome of the April 15 mass abduction, Boko Haram is a force that needs to be taken seriously by the global community at large. In a briefing published by Amnesty International, Research and Advocacy Director for Africa, Netsanet Belay, said, “More than 1,500 deaths in [the past] three months indicate an alarming deterioration in the situation. The international community cannot continue to look the other way in the face of extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and other crimes under international law being committed on a mass scale. Civilians are paying a heavy price as the cycle of violations and reprisals gather momentum.”