Boko Haram is a terrorist organization that started in Nigeria. Its roots go back to 1990, however, the group as we know it now, emerged in 2009. In the 90’s, it was a group of radical Muslim youth that wanted Nigeria to be an Islamic state with Sharia law. It continued to grow, but never became overwhelmingly violent until 2009. After June 2009, the group took a distinct turn towards violence, even receiving training in Somalia in 2010.
The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or “people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teachings and jihad.” However, those in Nigeria and the West know the group as “Boko Haram” which loosely translates into “Western Education is a Sin.” Don’t be fooled, the group is against more than just education. They want a complete Islamic state with Sharia law. Nothing less.
The group is hard to define outside of these tenants. Once the leader was killed, the group splintered into several factions. The person we consider the leader, Abubakar Shekau, only has complete control of one group and tends to focus his attention on the state of Borno. The infamous kidnapping of almost 300 schoolgirls came from this area. The other groups have expanded into other areas of Nigeria, as well as neighboring countries of Cameroon and Niger.
Some analysts believe that Boko Haram is an effect of a corrupt government that spans generations and usurps the court system making it a criminal enterprise. Analysts believe that these Muslims want to enact Sharia law because they crave a just criminal system, not a crime-filled justice system. Because of this viewpoint, along with beliefs as to why the group was formed, no one completely agrees whether or not the organization is a terrorist group or an insurgency. However, according to the State Department, it is a terrorist group.
The State Department takes this stance for multiple reasons, one of those being that the group issued a statement declaring solidarity with al Qaeda and made threats against the United States. Although Boko Haram seems to be regional right now, there are signs of it moving to expand, making travelling Americans, and American assets abroad, at risk. Westerners have already been kidnapped by Boko Haram and its splinter group Ansaru.
The group targets more than just Westerners. It uses their “cause” to justify killing Christians. It also kills any Muslim who won’t join their group. They believe anything Western is an obstacle to getting the Islamic state that they want. This includes rights for women, education, other religions, and other western ideas. Some people liken this group to the Taliban because of their belief system.
The Christians and Muslims in Nigeria have had tensions for quite some time. There have also been political, ethnic, justice and poverty problems for quite some time. Because of these issues, Boko Haram feels entitled to enact the violence they do in order to bring about a government they believe will benefit Nigeria. They see Sharia law as the answer to their problems and Nigerian Christians, as well as the West, as an obstacle to the answer.