Since 2009, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has been spreading fear and terror mostly in northeastern Nigeria. Its main goal is to enforce Islamic Shariah law throughout Nigeria.
Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced as Boko Haram attacks increased in recent years. The group was founded at the beginning of the millennium in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, in northeastern Nigeria.
The group represents a radical interpretation of the Quran. "Haram" is an Arabic word which refers to anything that contradicts the teachings of Islam. "Boko" is borrowed from the English word for book. The name "Boko Haram" is an expression of the group's ideology that western education is sinful. Like other Islamist movements before it, Boko Haram fights for the introduction of strict Islamic Shariah law throughout Nigeria.
The movement was founded by Mohammed Yusuf. It initially comprised of unemployed school leavers and graduates. Most of them burned their school leaving certificates and testimonies in protest against what they saw as social inequality in northeastern Nigeria. Later on, they started attacking government installations.
In July 2009, fierce fighting erupted in Maiduguri following a crackdown on the group. 800 people were killed and the Nigerian police arrested many members of the group including its leader Yusuf. He was later killed while in police custody.
Murder that changed group
Observers see the murder of Mohammed Yusuf as the starting point for increasing violence by Boko Haram. During the holy month of Ramadan, heavily armed men attacked a prison and freed several hundred Boko Haram fighters. Since then there have been regular killings and attacks on churches and government institutions not only in northeastern Nigeria but also in the capital Abuja. Abubakar Shekau, heir to Mohammed Yusuf claimed responsibility for most of those attacks.
Analysts argue that rampant poverty and unemployment in northern Nigeria make it easy for the group to recruit new fighters.
So far, Nigeria's security forces have failed to contain the heavily armed terrorists.
Since 2011, a joint task force of police and military personnel has been fighting Boko Haram. The government has repeatedly imposed states of emergency in the three northeastern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa. The latest state of emergency was imposed in May 2013.
Nigeria's Islamist terror network caught the attention of the West a while ago. The US claims the group has links to global terrorist organization al-Qaeda. Washington added Boko Haram to its terrorist list in late 2013. They also put a bounty of $7 million (5 million euros) on Abubakar Shekau's head.
Whether the international efforts to intervene militarily will help in the fight against Boko Haram remains questionable. But it is more likely to confirm the Islamists argument that the West is their enemy.