A string of increasingly brutal attacks - along with reports that
Boko Haram may soon hit Nigeria's predominately Christian South - is
bringing fresh scrutiny of the Islamist group.
Earlier this week, lawmakers, aides, and journalists in Nigeria's
capital city of Abuja rushed into the streets after word spread that
a bomb was planted in the National Assembly. Frantic calls to loved
ones with reassurances of safety could be heard while police
scrambled to find the explosive.
It turned out to be a false alarm. But Tuesday's panic was
indicative of the fear that has gripped Abuja since Aug. 26. On that
day, Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group based in Nigeria's north,
detonated a bomb at the fortified United Nations headquarters,
killing 23 people and injuring 76. The bomb, which gutted the entire
first floor of the building, was carried in an SUV driven by a
suicide bomber and member of the terrorist group. It was one of the
worst attacks ever on a UN installation.
The bombing represents a dramatic escalation in violence by Boko
Haram, whose name roughly translates to "western education is a
sin." Previously, the group targeted more vulnerable objectives in
Nigeria's north and the country's Middle Belt, the area separating
the Christian south from the Muslim north. Since the UN bombing, the
group has expanded its scope, threatening to bomb Nigerian
universities and international targets, as well as issuing threats
to politicians and journalists.
"There is going to be a continued campaign of violence and
terrorism," says Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress
of Nigeria. "I expect more violence very soon."
A violent history in Nigeria
Boko Haram was formed in 2002 when a radical preacher named
Mohammed Yusuf began teaching unemployed and disaffected youth in
the northeast state of Borno, one of the poorest regions of the
country. Mr. Yusuf formed a fundamentalist school there, which
attracted Muslim children from across northern Nigeria.
The group was known for its strict adherence to Islamic law, as
well as the violence its members waged against those who opposed it.
Boko Haram operated freely, committing violent acts across then
north until Nigerian national security forces began to investigate
them in 2009. In the course of the investigation, Yusuf was
arrested. He died mysteriously while in police custody. His death
led to clashes between police and the terrorist group that resulted
in the deaths of some 700 Boko Haram members.
After Yusuf's death, the group broadened its mission to impose
Islamic law not just in the north but also throughout Nigeria. It
began a campaign of strategic violence, including political
assassinations, attacks on police and federal security
installations, and a series of bombings.
In the past year, the city of Jos in Plateau State, east of
Abuja, has emerged as the frontline of the battle between the Boko
Haram and Christian militants. …