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  • María Subirán Moreno

Boko Haram: a terrorist profile.

Year 3 - Week 7

ISSN 2603 - 9931

Nowadays, when people talk about terrorism, they tend to think of the Middle East or Europe, while in the African continent they are experiencing one of the strongest and hardest moments. Boko Haram can be a perfect example of this new emerging terrorism, which benefits from globalization, it is based on an extreme religious fanaticism and it has already left more than 20,000 dead since 2009, 2.1 million displaced and a difficult situation to control in the Sahel area.

This terrorist group has its focus of action in Nigeria, although it has crossed the Nigerian borders to reach countries like Cameroon. To be able to understand the complexity of the group, it is important to keep in mind the country profile of Nigeria, a resource-rich region with many possibilities and one of the most powerful economies in the African continent thanks to the extraction and export of oil. Despite the development speed, Nigeria has not managed to eradicate the most fundamental problems of their society, such as corruption (during the last 7 years in Nigeria 6,045 million dollars from public funds have been stolen), inequality (70% of the population of Nigeria lives on less than one euro a day), and the inability of the administration to manage the country's social, economic and political problems. This is why Boko Haram is understood as an answer to this situation that Nigeria has lived and is currently living.

The terrorist group Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad (in Arabic, people committed to propagating the teachings of the Prophet and the jihad), known worldwide as Boko Haram, which in turn translates as "Western education is forbidden” is one of the most radical, extremist and violent groups in the entire African continent. Its main objective is to create a fundamentalist Muslim state, establishing Sharia as the basis of legislation. This description of the group, its Islamic fanaticism contrary to the Nigerian government and its rejection of Western culture reminds the Yan Tatsine sect, which in the 80s rose against the legitimate power of the country and managed to compromise the security of it. This is why some people talk about a predecessor.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002 by Mohamed Yusuf, even though armed actions began in 2009. It was in 2009 when the terrorist group showed itself as a greater threat after the confrontations against the Nigerian Security Forces. In that same year, Yusuf was killed in a security operation and Abubakar Shekau assumed the position as leader of Boko Haram.

According to the internal organization of the terrorist group, it is based on a networked structure. This type of system is much wider than what has been used so far, because their actions will be based on goals, objectives and ideals that are raised in a general way. Hence, it is a system based on a flexible affiliation of individuals to whom the goals and objectives of the program have been announced by the terrorist group and can perform the actions on their own. That is why among the members of Boko Haram there is no physical but ideological connection.

This terrorist group has around 5,000 fighters, but as analysts say, it is very difficult to count the exact number, although what they do assure is that most of the members come from Nigeria, and to a lesser extent, from countries like Chad and Sudan. As for the form of recruitment, the terrorist group takes advantage of two types of situations. On the one hand, young people who have their basic needs not covered, while on the other hand, they look for young people with a strong need for personal fulfillment. Consequently, Boko Haram takes advantage of the instability of the country to radicalize the feeling of young people against Nigeria. The development of technology has also directly helped terrorism in recruitment and radicalization since with the arrival of forums and different spaces to share ideas, content is generated continuously without the need for terrorists to do so.

Attending to the modus operandi of the group and in spite of the numerous changes that it has suffered throughout its trajectory, the case of Boko Haram is very clear. In its beginnings, Boko Haram was characterized for assaulting individuals or Christian populations with very improvised explosives and much simpler aggressions. Then, these guerrilla tactics would be more sophisticated in their attacks with the addition of Molotov cocktails and eventually, pass to suicide attacks or actions with military weapons that are believed to come from the transnational trade, which suggests that the terrorist group has foreign support.

The tool that Boko Haram uses the most and the African region most fears is kidnapping. It was the group itself who, already in 2013 warned of their intentions to kidnap girls in Nigeria. It took Boko Haram shortly to fulfill his threats and begin what is now known as the terrorist group's terror brand. "There is a market to sell humans, Allah said we should sell them, he sent me to sell," concluded the leader of the terrorist group, and in May of that same year, all those kidnappings began. This desire to kidnap girls, attend to several reasons. First of all it has to do with the opposition to Western culture and teaching, but the group above all opposes such teaching among women, because according to what they understand of Sharia, women have to be at home, taking care of the children and their husbands, not learning how to read or write. Second, they use the girls they kidnap as maids or sex slaves, marrying them with combatants and abusing them. All those who refuse this life, are used as women-bombs.

At this point, it is impossible not to remember one of the most mediatic attacks carried out by Boko Haram that took place on April 14, 2014, in a Christian school in the village of Chibok. That day, a group of terrorist fighters kidnapped 276 girls for suicidal and sexual purposes. In that same year, in October, the terrorist group would free twenty girls after an agreement with the government in which, although the president himself assured that in exchange the terrorists did not receive money, this release coincided with a time when the terrorist group saw its number of fighters decrease. With this kidnapping, Boko Haram managed to capture international attention, allowing itself to be seen as a very structured and capable group of important blows to the region of Nigeria and generating the hashtag #BringOurGirlsBack that was used by important politicians, activists, and people from all over the world through social networks.

One of the issues that generates the most controversial debate about the group, is the way it is financed, the most secret and elusive aspect of Boko Haram. First of all, those massive kidnappings are important funding sources. Moreover, the relationship between terrorism and organized crime must be taken into account, because often, the trafficking of people, weapons or drugs are usually some of the main means of financing terrorist groups. In the case of the Sahel, this link between terrorism and the different forms of organized crime that exists has special force, both by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or Boko Haram. But drug trafficking, the kidnapping of people and some contributions do not seem to be enough to finance the very expensive arsenal that the terrorist group possesses.

The impact that the terrorist group has had in the region of Nigeria can be measured in different ways: the human impact (more than 20,000 deaths in the last 10 years and more than one million displaced); the cost of infrastructure destruction caused by the continuous attacks (not only in Nigeria but in any of the territories that share borders with the country); the development of the region (it is almost impossible for this area to continue with future plans); the image of Nigeria has been seriously damaged by the situation of political imbalance; and the economy of the country (as a member of the OPEC, the organization rejects any initiative by the country to start with an independent policy).

The situation of instability that Nigeria was experiencing at a political, social and economic level, not only facilitated the birth of this terrorist group but also its continuity over time. For its part, neither the Nigerian government nor the rest of the countries with which it shares the border have been able to diminish the ability of action of Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, there are already some people who speak of a possible fifth wave of terrorism that comes from the new scenarios that the world is experiencing and needs to face today. In this case, the movements will go further, because it is generated by greater masses and follow a common resentment. Terrorist acts are based on human beliefs and feelings, not on specific situations that will change or disappear over the time.

To conclude, all these regional problems convert Africa into a fertile territory for not only terrorism but also organized crime. Military responses do not seem to be enough, that is why the UN Security Council is asking for international cooperation that can strengthen the resources of the African region and facilitate the eradication of those political, social and economic problems that countries as Nigeria need to face. As long as those problems remain as part of the African culture, Boko Haram will still have an administrative gap to hit not just Nigeria, but all the neighboring countries

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