By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
In a year packed with terrorist attacks, the world’s deadliest militant group has carried out massacres the size of the San Bernardino, Calif., killings once or twice a week. And over time, it has undertaken dozens of attacks that dwarf November’s deadly rampage in Paris, sometimes shooting down several hundred civilians at a time.
Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group, has been more deadly than Islamic State. And every time Nigeria’s army seems to have made substantial progress toward wiping it out, the group has quietly rebuilt. Its members cut the throats of schoolboys, casting them aside to bleed to death. And they behead victims, like Islamic State, and record the atrocities on video.
Although Boko Haram has at times threatened the West, it has largely focused on poor Nigerian villagers, far from the media spotlight.
Five years ago, in a clandestine interview in Kano, a leader of Boko Haram described acts of terrorism against the U.S. as “divine worship.”
“They are fighting Islam, and we will also fight them, if we get the chance,” he said.
Boko Haram, modeled on Afghanistan’s Taliban, was at its lowest ebb in 2010, with Nigerian authorities confident they had brought the organization to its knees after having killed 700 of its fighters in a battle the previous year. But Boko Haram went underground, regrouped and has since launched thousands of attacks. Last year, it was the world’s most deadly terrorist group, according to the Global Terrorism Index released recently by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a research group.
“It’s proven to be one of the most resilient organizations. It’s evolved quickly. It’s shifted alliances. It’s been pronounced dead numerous times,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, another research group.
“At one point it had no outside support. Then they got support from al-Qaida. It dropped al-Qaida and went over to the new winning team, ISIS,” he said, referring to Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
Boko Haram was blamed for recent twin suicide bombings in Kano, one carried out by an 11-year-old girl, and a market bombing in Yola that killed 34. The extremist group was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, a 300 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Global Terrorism Index. In comparison, Islamic State killed 6,073 people in 2014.
The overall number of terrorism deaths increased from 18,111 in 2013 to 32,685 in 2014, the report said; the most terrifying place to live was in the northeast Nigeria region that is Boko Haram’s home turf.
Victims of the group, and of others like Somalia’s al-Shabaab, describe attackers displaying a cold, emotionless aura in some of the continent’s worst terrorist attacks, including two in Kenya: the Westgate shopping mall massacre in 2013, in which 67 people were killed; and another at Garissa University College in April, in which 148 were killed, most of them students. Both demonstrated how much damage a few heavily armed suicidal men can cause in a short time.
As in Paris and San Bernardino, typical Boko Haram attacks target people simply going about their business.
Dozens of terrorist fighters swarm into a village or town on motorcycles or in pickup trucks and open fire on a market or square. In many attacks, hundreds of people have been killed, some of them burned alive, according to survivors. Men and boys as young as 10 would be dragged from their houses and shot, or slaughtered with knives.
Hauwa Umar saw men’s beheaded bodies strewn about the town of Gwoza after Boko Haram attacked in August last year.
“There were uncountable bodies without heads,” she said in a March interview. “Boko Haram kept saying, ‘Stop crying! Stop crying!’ I couldn’t stop crying, and they’d shoot their guns in the air to shock you. But I kept on crying.”
Women and children were abducted as sex slaves. (Hundreds have been released in recent months, but not 219 girls still missing from among 276 abducted from Chibok last year.
Shehu Sani, a Nigerian senator and human rights activist, has been involved in repeated efforts to negotiate a cease-fire with Boko Haram under President Goodluck Jonathan and his successor, Muhammadu Buhari. But the talks, also designed to secure the freedom of the kidnapped Chibok girls, have so far failed. Buhari set a deadline to crush the militant group by December, but his office recently acknowledged that the effort would take longer.
Boko Haram has become more violent and more difficult to negotiate with since rebranding itself the Islamic State’s West Africa Province this year, Sani said.
“They have stepped up attacks on soft targets, killing innocent people,” he said.
The army’s success in driving Boko Haram from its forest hideouts in recent months merely resulted in the group going underground, moving to cities and launching attacks on civilians, Sani said.
Early on, the group acted like a religious cult, demanding that followers sell all of their “sinful” belongings including vehicles, furniture, televisions and even the tools of their trades to fill its coffers. Wives described husbands who refused to allow them to leave the house. The men grew long beards and came home with guns and bombs, the women said.
Later the group won funding and support from al-Qaida’s African affiliate, and early this year switched loyalties to Islamic State, embracing its apocalyptic ideology in return for its backing.
“With that type of ideological absolutism where they’re aspiring to be a universal empire of religion, there’s no compromise possible,” said Pham, the analyst, referring to Islamic State. “And Boko Haram is evolving the same ideology. Perhaps earlier in its history, when (it) was primarily a local concern and its ideology was not as rigid in its adherence to absolutism, perhaps there might have been a possibility of compromise. But that moment has gone by.
“To date, they have not shown themselves to be a direct threat to Western countries,” Pham said. “But I wouldn’t rule it out in the future. It has evolved very quickly. That they haven’t attacked foreign targets doesn’t mean they don’t have that ambition or couldn’t evolve a strategy.”
©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: A man holds a sign that reads “Stop Boko Haram” at a rally to support Chadian troops heading to Cameroon to fight Boko Haram, in Ndjamena January 17, 2015. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun
By Warren Strobel
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States is sending 300 U.S. troops, along with surveillance drones, to Cameroon to bolster a West African effort to counter the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
In a notification to Congress, President Barack Obama said an advance force of about 90 military personnel began deploying on Monday to Cameroon, with the consent of the Yaounde government.
The troops will “conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the region,” Obama said. “These forces are equipped with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security, and they will remain in Cameroon until their support is no longer needed.”
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the troops would provide intelligence to a multi-national task force being set up to fight Boko Haram and composed of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin.
Boko Haram, which wants to carve out an Islamist caliphate and has allied itself to Islamic State, earlier this year stepped up cross-border attacks on Nigeria’s neighbors.
On Sunday, two female suicide bombers killed nine people in the town of Mora in Cameroon’s Far North region, employing a tactic increasingly favored by Boko Haram.
The American officials said the U.S. soldiers would deploy initially to the city of Garoua in northern Cameroon, not far from the Nigerian border. The force will include Predator drones for surveillance, they said.
The White House said the move was not in response to any changed assessment of threat in the region.
The United States has no combat troops in Africa, but has been increasing support to allies in the region battling Boko Haram.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Frances Kerry)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) 38th Annual Awards Gala in Washington October 8, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
By Aminu Abubakar with Ola Awoniyi in Abuja, AFP
Kano, Nigeria — Boko Haram waged fresh attacks in northeastern Nigeria, locals said Friday, bringing to nearly 170 the number of people killed this week in violence President Muhammadu Buhari blasted as “inhuman and barbaric.”
Militants have launched multiple attacks in restive Borno state since Wednesday, with people attending evening prayers during the holy month of Ramadan gunned down, women shot at home, and men dragged from their homes in the dead of night.
A young female suicide bomber also killed 12 worshippers when she blew herself up in a mosque in Borno and while there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Boko Haram has used both men and young women and girls as human bombs in the past.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the latest wave of killings by Boko Haram in Borno state, describing them as most inhuman and barbaric,” the presidency said in a statement.
Bodies ‘Lying Unattended’
The wave of attacks, which took place over less than 36 hours, is the bloodiest since Buhari came to power in May, vowing to root out the insurgency that has claimed more than 15,000 lives.
News of the violence first emerged on Thursday, when survivors described raids on three different villages in Borno the previous evening that left at least 145 people killed and houses burnt to the ground.
On Friday, fresh details of these killings emerged from a resident of Kukawa, the worst-affected village.
Baana Kole told AFP that he and others had managed to escape into the bush where they spent the night, before returning to bury the dead, only to find that the militants had laid mines everywhere.
“Some residents who hid in trees saw them planting the mines and alerted us when we returned to the village and started burying our dead,” he said.
Bomber ‘Aged Around 15’
“So many dead bodies are still in Kukawa lying unattended. We had to abandon them because we could not carry them with us.”
Less than 24 hours later, a girl blew herself up in a mosque in Malari village, more than 150 kilometers away from Wednesday’s attacks.
“The bomber was a girl aged around 15 who was seen around the mosque when worshippers were preparing for the afternoon prayers,” Danlami Ajaokuta, a vigilante assisting the military against Boko Haram, told AFP.
“People asked her to leave because she had no business there and they were not comfortable with her in view of the spate of suicide attacks by female Boko Haram members.
“She made to leave but while the people were inside the mosque for the prayers she ran from a distance into the mosque and blew herself up,” he added — an account corroborated by resident Gajimi Mala.
And early Friday morning, as people were sleeping, Boko Haram militants dragged men out of houses in Miringa village and shot them for escaping forced conscription.
They “picked 13 men from selected homes and took them to the Eid prayer ground outside the village where they opened fire on them,” resident Baballe Mohammed said, adding 11 died and two managed to escape.
He and another resident said the victims had been targeted because they had fled their home village after Boko Haram tried to force them to join their ranks.
The armed group has intensified its campaign of violence since Buhari came to power on May 29, launching raids, explosions, and suicide attacks that have claimed more than 420 lives.
Boko Haram Has ‘Regrouped’
The spike in violence has sparked concern that earlier victories claimed by the armies of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon in the region are being eroded.
The four countries — all of which border Lake Chad, a focal point of Boko Haram unrest — launched offensives against the militants early this year as it became apparent that the armed group was gaining too much ground in Nigeria.
They managed to push the militants out of captured towns and villages, but the recent attacks highlight that Boko Haram is not defeated.
“The drawdown of counterinsurgency initiatives, in addition to the fact such undertakings remain limited to Nigerian territory only, have seemingly allowed Boko Haram to regroup, rearm and mobilize their forces ahead of a renewed offensive,” said Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at the Red24 consultancy group.
A new regional fighting force comprising 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Benin is due to deploy at the end of the month.
Photo: A police officer in northeastern Nigeria at the scene of a suicide bombing after at least 20 people were killed when a young woman detonated explosives at a bus station on June 22, 2015. AFP/File
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