Below is an article I wrote in the New York Times about the changing nature of Boko Haram’s threat and the likely next stage in the group’s evolution.
A few excerpts:
the group now seems to spend as much time engaged in banditry as it does fighting “Western education.” When officials from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser interviewed Boko Haram prisoners, they were told that most of the group’s soldiers “have never read the Quran.”
Also the group seems to be changing tactics:
Today, Boko Haram is no longer occupying large parts of Nigeria. Instead, it has morphed into a group of well-organized bandits. The military’s successes changed Boko Haram’s threat, but didn’t eliminate it.
On April 1, 2016 Nigeria’s State Security Service announced that it had arrested Khalid Al-Barnawi, who has been on its wanted list, and whom Nigeria held responsible for the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja on August 26, 2011.
The media description of Al-Barnawi is fuzzy, with some media outlets describing him as “Boko Haram’s second in command” and others acknowledging him as the leader of Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan (“the Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa); AKA “Ansaru. He was arrested at an army barracks in Lokoja, Kogi State.
Al-Barnawi’s real name is alleged to be Mohammed Usman, although he has many other aliases including Kafuri, Naziru, Alhaji Yahaya, Mallam Dauda and Alhaji Tanimu. The SSS claimed that Al-Barnawi acted as a recruiter who procured Nigerians for training by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North African states and the Middle-East.
Ansaru’s group was also held responsible for several kidnapping incidents in Nigeria in recent years including the kidnapping of two European engineers in Kebbi State in May 2011 (and their subsequent murder in Sokoto State in March 2013 during a botched rescue attempt), the kidnap of a German engineer, Edgar Raupach in January 2012, and the kidnap and murder of seven expatriate staff of Setraco Construction Company at Jama’are, Bauchi State in February 2013, as well as an attack on Nigerian troops that were en route for a UN mission in Mali.
One of the most bizarre details about Al-Barnawi’s arrest is that he was allegedly arrested inside the Chari Magumeri Barracks, while visiting a family member (following a tip-off).
If this account is true, what on earth was one of the most wanted men in the world (let alone Nigeria) doing inside a military barracks? Also, who is the “family member” he was visiting? Was the person a military personnel? If the answer to that question is “yes”, then it raises some very disturbing implications.
Great video featuring Dr Fatima Akilu, a psychologist, and the Director of Behavioural Analysis and Strategic Communication in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). Dr Akilu used to work as a psychologist for the UK’s National Health Service until she was hired by Nigeria’s National Security Adviser to assist in Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram. Her role is to complement the military battle with Boko Haram with ‘soft power’ approaches aimed at socio-psychological approaches to countering Boko Haram.
Dr Akilu spoke in Washington DC, USA, at the Center For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In this video she made some eye raising revelations such as:
- many Boko Haram members do not read, and have never read, the Koran. Their knowledge of orthodox Islam is poor.
- contrary to popular belief, most Boko Haram members do not join the group due to poverty. Rather the group offers youths a sense of belonging and Boko Haram takes advantage of youths’ desire for belonging, and transition into adulthood to recruit.
- Dr Akilu’s department focuses on a programme called Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). CVE has four elements: (1) de-radicalisation (de-radicalising Boko Haram members in prison or those exposed to their doctrine), (2) counter-radicalisation (preventing people from being radicalised to begin with, identifying at risk youths and and pre-empting them from being recruited by Boko Haram – at ‘centers of imagination’), (3) strategic communication (countering and challenging Boko Haram’s narrative, rendering alternate non-violent interpretations of the Koran), and (3) a framework for psychology.
- Dr Akilu’s looked at battles against terrorism and insurgency in other countries such as Algeria, Australia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UK, USA, and spent a year researching other countries’ approaches to terrorism elsewhere.
- Not all Boko Haram members are uneducated. Some have degrees and PhDs.
- Many Boko Haram members have poor knowledge of the Koran and have never read it.
- Boko Haram tends to oppose western secular education, music, and arts – areas that encourage critical thinking in young people. The obvious subtext is that exposure to such subjects makes people more resistant to Boko Haram’s message.
Start watching from around 50 minutes.
My article in the Guardian newspaper about the Nigerian army’s ongoing battle with Boko Haram.
An intermediary who entered Boko Haram’s camp last year to negotiate the Chibok girls’ release was shocked to find their presence dwarfed by other captives. The teenagers may represent less than 10% of the total number of hostages held by the militants, amid estimates that more than 3,000 other teenagers have been kidnapped.
Boko Haram kidnaps, rapes, and impregnates female abductees not just to sow terror but also to replenish its ranks. More than 200 of the women recently rescued are pregnant, and several of the rescued children were born and raised in Boko Haram’s stronghold in the Sambisa forest.
Boko Haram has been the beneficiary of some training and equipment from ISIL,” Barlow continued. “Prisoners have told us that Boko Haram is and has been supplied and supported by ‘Europeans’ who have arrived in their safe areas by helicopter.”
Great five part series on the recent gains made by the Nigerian army against Boko Haram. Including the role of South African private military companies, Nigerian special forces, and new weaponry received by the army.
every soldier is ready to die defending this ground…we are one family here.
The Muslims and the Christians; we are all good. We are friends, brothers. We pray together…everybody is fine, no problem.
“Most of these young men ended up killing their parents…their families, their friends. They have a list. They go one after another.”