Boko Haram Attack Kills Hundreds in Nigeria

More chaos out of Nigeria wrought by the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

From Al-Jazeera:

Boko Haram attack kills hundreds in Nigeria

Officials estimate the death toll at 300 in town left unguarded during attempts to rescue missing schoolgirls.

A Boko Haram attack has killed hundreds in Nigeria’s northeast, multiple sources have said, as police offered $300,000 for information leading to the rescue of more than 200 schoolgirls held hostage by the armed group.

The latest attack reported on Wednesday targeted the town of Gamboru Ngala on the border with Cameroon, where gunmen earlier this week razed scores of buildings and fired on civilians as they tried to flee.

Area Senator Ahmed Zanna put the death toll at 300, in an account supported by numerous residents.

Zanna said the town had been left unguarded because soldiers based there had been redeployed north towards Lake Chad in an effort to rescue more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14.

The mass abduction has sparked global outrage and offers of help from the United States, Britain, France and China.

Nigeria’s response to the kidnappings has been widely criticised, including by activists and parents of the hostages who say the military’s search operation has been inept so far.

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Who are Boko Haram?

Boko Haram style themselves as an “Islamist” militant group, but in fact they are simply thugs engaged in terrorizing Nigeria and using the cloak of Islam to justify their barbarism.

Allegedly, their goal is to turn Nigeria into a “pure Islamic state” and eschew Westernization, western-style education, and clothing styles.  Basically, they are the Taliban of northeastern Nigera — backward, uneducated, barbaric misogynists who for reasons that can only be considered insane, want to send Nigeria back to the Stone Age.

This goes against pretty much everything I know about Islam as practiced by the majority of the world’s Muslims, but that’s a topic for another diary.

Suffice it to say, Boko Haram and there crazy bearded brothers in Afghanistan have no interest in a “pure Islamic” state any more than I do.  What they want is power and control and continual strife and economic hardship allow them the opening they need to terrorize their fellow countrypersons into compliance.

The word “haram” is something that is not permitted in Islam — for example, pork, alcohol, charging interest on a loan — are all haram, or sinful.  The name, “Boko Haram” translates loosely as western-style education is harm, or goes against the tenets of Islam.

According to Wikipedia, Boko Haram is an Islamist-Takfiri organization.  “Takfir,” as defined in Wikipedia:  

Takfiris have been classified by some commentators as violent offshoots of the Salafi movement, yet while Salafism is seen as a form of ‘fundamentalist Islam’, it is not an inherently violent movement that condones terrorism.[4] Takfiris, on the other hand, condone acts of violence as legitimate methods of achieving religious or political goals.

Salafism is a strict, Saudi-style form of Islam, kissing cousins to Deobandism, which arose out of the Indian subcontinent and is the philosophical branch to which the Taliban adhere.  Their versions of what is a “pure, Islamic” state do vary somewhat, but the bottom line is men have all the control, women are secondary citizens who cannot drive, or travel outside their homes without a “mahram” (a father, brother or grown son or other person who is deemed safe, or unmarriageble to the woman) to escort them.

Afghanistan was once a modern country where people worse western clothing, women went to college and entered the professional workplace and were not compelled to wear the head-to-toe covering with a mesh rectangle to see called a burqa.  How does such a group come to gain prominence in a modern country?

Admittedly, I know a lot more about Afghanistan than I do Nigeria.  In Afghanistan, after years of war with Russia, Afghanistan was left broke, in tatters, and in control of regional warlords.  Things were grim, and the warlord were rapacious.  When a talib (student) driven movement sprang up, Afghans were hopeful that they would be able to quell the power of the warlords and restore some semblance of normalcy to the country.

But no, we all now know how that turned out.  

Widespread economic hardship and a weak (or non-existent) government is fertile ground for these types of groups.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to quote some sources about the origin of Boko Haram.

From the BBC story, Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?:

 photo bokoharam1.jpgNigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram – which has caused havoc in Africa’s most populous country through a wave of bombings, assassinations and now abductions – is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.

Its followers are said to be influenced by the Koranic phrase which says: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors”.

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.

This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.

Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.

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The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.

National Geographic has a recent article on the group, Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Who Are They and What Do They Want?  What drives Nigerian militants to kidnap schoolgirls?

*     *     *

Why did Boko Haram arise in northern Nigeria?

Bad governance, corruption, persistent economic hardship, and rising inequality have fostered the growth of radical extremist groups. A Nigerian bishop characterized Boko Haram as “a resistance movement against misrule rather than a purely Islamic group.”

According to a recent USIP and CLEEN Foundation study, the three major reasons young men join Boko Haram are unemployment and poverty, manipulation by extremist religious leaders, and a lack of awareness of the authentic teachings of Islam.

*     *      *

What effect has Boko Haram had on the population in northeastern Nigeria?

More than 5,000 people have been killed in the armed conflict associated with Boko Haram, at either the hands of insurgents or of government security forces. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes because of the violence, and fear permeates the air. As James Verini wrote in a November 2013 article for National Geographic, “Boko Haram has become something more than a terrorist group, more even than a movement. Its name has taken on an incantatory power. Fearing they will be heard and killed by Boko Haram, Nigerians refuse to say the group’s name aloud, referring instead to ‘the crisis’ or ‘the insecurity.'”

Does Boko Haram have links to other terrorist organizations?

Although most of Boko Haram’s attacks have been on Nigerian targets and most of their objectives have been national, its leaders do have connections to other African Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Somalia’s Al Shabaab, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

About its leader, Abubakar Shekau, CNN has a video story, Boko Haram leader: Is there a method to his madness?

(CNN) — To many who watched his long, rambling video statement, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau appeared strangely distracted, unfocused, perhaps under the influence of drugs while boasting of abducting nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls.

But there is calculation in such cruelty, and method where some see madness. The kidnapping serves Shekau on many levels, and observers of Boko Haram say he should not be underestimated.

Shekau’s on-camera performances are the opposite of the composed appearances of late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the terror group’s current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Jacob Zenn, an expert on Boko Haram with the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based research and analysis firm, says Shekau has even acknowledged the intellectual chaos of his presentations. But they impress his followers.

Shekau speaks classical Arabic and Hausa, the language of northern Nigerian Muslims, and had a religious education. As deputy to former Boko Haram leader Mohamed Yusuf, who was killed in 2009, Shekau delivered sermons littered with references to Islamic scholars. He also expressed admiration for al Qaeda as a jihadist movement, although Boko Haram is not an affiliate of the group.

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For history on this organization, The United States Institute of Peace has this 16-page special report, What Is Boko Haram? which was published in June of 2012.  It is in .pdf format but if you can, do check it out.

Thank you for reading.

This bit was posted at Voices on the Square, The Stars Holllow Gazette, Docudharma, and Daily Kos.