Friday, 4 November 2016

BOKO HARAM: the world’s deadliest  terrorist organization

I obtained much of the information for this article from the Al Jazeera Network and other sources.

The Boko Haram which means “F0rbidden Education” is a Sunni Islamic extremist group based in northeastern Nigeria and is also active in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. The group was led by Abubakar Shekau until August 2016 when the Islamic extremist leader was killed along with 300 other militants during an air raid in August 2016. He was then succeeded by Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new leader of the Boko Haram.   

The Boko Haram is a fundamentalist sect, influenced by the Wahhabi movement, advocating a strict form of Sharia law. It is a branch of Sunni Islam and it has been variously described as being "ultraconservative”. Saudi Arabia is primarily Wahhabi. 

After its founding in 2002, Boko Haram's increasing radicalization led to a violent uprising in July 2009 in which its leader was summarily executed by Nigerian authorities. Then there was a mass prison break in September 2010 in the city of Bauchi.  The group having regrouped under their new leader, the Boko Haram broke 105 of its members out of the prison along with over 600 other prisoners and then went on to launch attacks in several areas of northern Nigeria.

Its unexpected resurgence was accompanied by increasingly sophisticated attacks, initially against soft targets, (civilians) and progressing in 2011 to include suicide bombings of police buildings and the United Nations office in Abuja which is the capital of Nigeria and is located in the centre of Nigeria. It was built in the 1980s. Its population is well over a million people. Christians and Muslims generally live side by side peacefully in that city.

Under Shekau's leadership, the group continuously improved its operational capabilities. After launching a string of  IED  (improvised explosive device) attacks against soft targets, and its first vehicle-borne IED attack in June 2011, killing six persons at the Abuja police headquarters. In August, the Boko Haram bombed the UN headquarters in Abuja, the first time they had struck a Western target. A spokesman claiming responsibility for the attack, in which eleven UN staff members died as well as 12 others, with more than 100 injured, The terrorists warned of future planned attacks on US and Nigerian government interests. Speaking soon after the US embassy's announcement of the arrival in the country of the FBI that went to announce Boko Haram's terms for negotiation—the release of all their imprisoned members.

The Boko Haram then maintained a steady rate of attacks since 2011, striking a wide range of targets, multiple times per week. They attacked politicians, religious leaders, security forces and ordinary civilian targets. Their tactic of suicide bombing, used in two of the attacks in the capital on the police and UN headquarters, was new to Nigeria.

On the 8th of January 2012, the new president of Nigeria, Goodluck Johnathan announced that the Boko Haram had in reality infiltrated both the army and the police, as well as the executive, parliamentary and legislative branches of government. Meanwhile, the trail of massacres continued relentlessly, apparently leading the country towards a civil war. 

Boko Haram carried out 115 attacks in 2011, killing 550. The state of emergency would usher in an intensification of violence. The opening three weeks of 2012 accounted for more than half of the death total of the preceding year. Two days after the state of emergency was declared, the Boko Haram released an ultimatum to southern Nigerians living in the north, giving them three days to leave or else.  Three days later they began a series of mostly small-scale attacks on Christians and members of the Igbo ethnic group, causing hundreds to flee their homes.  

In Kano, on the 20th of January, they carried out by far their most deadly action as of yet; an assault on police buildings, killing 190. One of the victims was a TV reporter. The attacks included a combined use of car bombs, suicide bombers and IEDs, supported by uniformed gunmen.

According to the 2012 US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices,  Nigeria had some serious human rights problems that included summary killings by security forces, including summary executions; security force torture, rape, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees, and criminal suspects; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringements on citizens' privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement. Obviously the Nigerian government was attempting to stamp out the Boko Haram as harshly as they could at the expense of human rights.

The Boko Haram staged more audacious attacks in northern and central Nigeria along with other nearby nations that included bombing churches, buses, bars, military barracks and places where people would gather.

Over the past few years, internal wrangling has been a feature of the Boko Haram group. This report examines the recent leadership split within the ISIS-aligned Nigerian ‘terrorist’ group, highlighting the reasons behind the feud and its implications for the future of Islamic jihadism in the region.

In just over six years, Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement has transformed from a band of radical preachers to a brutal group of terrorists that in 2014 acquired the infamous title of the “world's deadliest terrorist organization”.  Its rapid transformation owes partly to the nature of Nigerian state repression of the July 2009 revolt, during which some of the group’s members and its charismatic leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed extra-judicially in police custody.  However, the major factor was the emergence of Yusuf’s hard-line deputy, Abubakar Shekau, as the group’s spiritual leader. Under Shekau’s brutal leadership, the Boko Harm has sustained a deadly insurgency that overwhelmingly targeted civilians. The seven-year insurgency has claimed at least 20,000 lives, displaced more than 2.6 million people, created over 75, 000 orphans and caused about $9 billion worth of damage since 2009. 

In August 2016, the crack became very obvious when ISIS also known as  Daesh named Abu Musab al-Barnawi, as the new leader of Boko Haram. The long-time leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, denied he had been replaced and vowed to continue the insurgency. Subsequently, there was a recent split within the Boko Haram ‘terrorist’ group. It discusses the reason(s) behind the leadership split, highlights the implications of the factional feud for the future of Islamic jihadism in the Lake Chad region, and construct four possible scenarios for the end of the leadership rift.
On 2 August 2016, the Daesh in its propaganda magazine Al-Naba named Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new Wali or leader of ISWAP. Experts believe that al-Barnawi is the son of Boko Haram’s original founder, Mohammed Yusuf, and was previously the spokesman of Boko Haram under Shekau. Shortly after his nomination, al-Barnawi made a caustic rejection of Shekau's leadership, lambasting him for targeting ordinary Muslims and promising to concentrate attacks largely on Christians. 

The designation infuriated Shekau, who released an audio message on  the 4th of August insisting he is still the leader of Boko Haram. He claimed in the audio that he was deceived, and denounced al-Barnawi as an infidel. As Shekau puts it: “I was deceived but all I know is that al-Barnawi and whoever is with him are infidels. I will never stray from the ideology of the Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Da’awati wal-Jihad, which has its basis in the Quran.

Shekau’s outburst triggered a propaganda tirade between the two jihadi leaders. On the 6th August, al-Barnawi’s faction with the support of Mamman Nur released an audio message denouncing Shekau as a hypocrite and coward. They claimed that Shekau was ousted because of various offences, including the killing of fellow Muslims and living in luxury while his fighters starved. 

Analysts believe that Shekau and Nur have been locked in a factional feud, each sending audios behind-the-scenes to Daesh condemning one another.  As with past infighting since Shekau assumed leadership, the current leadership split is primarily driven by ideological cum tactical differences between Shekau and those who oppose his takfirist approach to Islamic jihadism. Shekau has made his jihadi-ideological position clear: 

I am against the principle where someone will dwell in the society with the infidels without making public his opposition or anger against the infidels publicly as it is stated in the Qur’an. Anyone doing that can’t be a Muslim, thick and thin. This is what our ideology proved and that is where I stand. 

Based on this conviction, Shekau’s Boko Haram makes no distinction between Christians or Muslims. He has ordered and justified suicide bombings that have repeatedly targeted mosques, churches, markets and bus stations, as well as intermittent raids that resulted in the killing, maiming, kidnapping and displacement of thousands of civilians. One of such high-profile incidents was the 14th of  April 2014 kidnapping of more than 250 schoolgirls from Chibok, majority of whom still remain in Boko Haram captivity. 

The Al Barnawi’s faction strongly disagrees with Shekau’s stance. In the critique of Shekau, Mamman Nur referred to Shekau’s ideological position by quoting the very words of the Qur’an which states that Allah (God) forbids Muslims from killing one another.  Further Mamman Nur said that Allah also ordered his followers against killing in secret. “If it is a serious punishment, it must be done in public for people to know and witness it. But once a faithful person sees killings in secret, there is something fishy, and this is what we noticed with Shekau.” 

To this end, Nur’s and al-Barnawi’s factions criticized Shekau for indiscriminate killing of Muslims, while at the same time, accusing him of sacrileges that affected the sanctity of their jihadist campaign thereby allowing military forces to record successes against them in the battlefield.

The apparent contradiction of al-Benarwi being a member of Deash that itself extols ‘takfirism’ (excommunicating other Muslims) that is predicated in his vision, ambition and conviction that the attainment of a Caliphate in West Africa is very possible under Daesh’s ‘saltationist’ (a person who believes in the theory about the sudden rise of new species as a result of mutations) approach than under al-Qaeda’s ‘gradualist’ (a person who believes that change comes about gradually or that variation is gradual in nature.) approach to Islamic jihadism.  Thus difference over ‘whom’ to kill and ‘how’ to kill, coupled with its impact on the sanctity of their jihadi insurgency underpinned the latest leadership feud within the Boko Haram. 

The implications of the recent factional feud will manifest in different versions. Violent confrontation and struggle for the control of territories between the rival factions are the obvious implications of their feud. In their struggle for dominance, each faction tries to maximise every opportunity to gain and consolidate territory, route, resources and followers. While the Daesh-backed al-Barnawi faction controls most of northern part of Borno State, which shares borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon along the shores of the Lake Chad, Shekau’s faction is dominant in the central and southern parts of the state, where the large swathes of the Sambisa forest are located. Violent confrontation between these factions obviously heightens the harm suffered by the innocent civilians.  

This kind of factionalism (disputes between two or more groups) further brings about insecurity and insurgency in the Lake Chad region. Consistent with its ideological views, the al-Barnawi factions focuses on greater attention (kidnapping, attacks and raids) by targeting Christians at other locations or population centres that play host to Westerners whereas  the Shekau faction continues  with their indiscriminate killing of Christians and Muslims alike, sparing only its followers. These kinds of crimes sustain violence in Nigeria and neighbouring countries, particularly in Niger, Chad and Cameroun. 

Furthermore, the al-Barnawi’s group attempts to leverage its longstanding links to Daesh to draw former Boko Haram and foreign fighters fleeing Libya to swell its ranks.  This subsequently accentuates the foreign fighter elements in the region and deepens rivalry among other groups for the control of the lucrative Lake Chad Region trade and smuggling routes. 

The leadership split complicated challenges in rescuing most of the over 200 Chibok girls that were abducted by the insurgents on the 14th of August 2014. This was because each of the factions believed to be in possession of some of the Chibok girls and would only release them on their own terms. For instance, Shekau later released a video to prove that his faction was in possession of a large number of the Chibok girls. Shekau’s long-time ally, Abu Zinnira indicated in the video their willingness to swap the girls for government imprisoned Boko Haram fighters.

The recent leadership feud had attracted commentary from analysts, with little or no attention on extrapolating possible scenarios for the end of the rift between the two leaders.  Four major scenarios could play out. What follows are the possible Scenarios over the recent split in Boko Haram.

Scenario One: The first possible scenario is that of confrontation, marked by violent clashes between fighters of the two factions. Experts have speculated that the leadership split could most probably lead to skirmishes between the rival factions. Factors such as deep ideological differences, clash of ego and shift in loyalty can underpin the outbreak of violent confrontation between the group.  The tone of Al-Barnawi’s faction in their August 6th audio message stating that “we will challenge anyone that challenges us”, suggests a formation prepared to engage the Shekau’s faction in gun battle. This scenario is most probable and already playing out. There were reports of sporadic deadly clashes between the two factions in the villages of Abadam, Arafa, Monguno, Yele, and Zuwa, in Nigeria’s remote northeast in late August and early September 2016. Shekau’s faction reportedly suffered most of the casualties. Sustained violent confrontation could lead to total decimation of one faction by the other.                                  

Scenario Two: The next scenario is one that could end in reconciliation. As sustained counterinsurgency (COIN) operations by national and regional military forces engender loses in fighters and resources to both factions. Therefore their leaders could be compelled to radically reconsider their rivalry to avoid eventual annihilation by government forces. In such a situation, mediation by foreign ‘terrorist’ groups could facilitate a negotiated settlement. This situation is very probable given that Daesh would wish for a united ISWAP to compensate for its recent loss of fighters and territory in other footholds across Africa, particularly in Libya. Also, despite the differences between the Shekau and Al Barnawi as well as Nur factions, indications are that their allegiance to Al Baghdadi as the Caliph of Daesh is unshaken.  This offers an adhesive that Daesh or other ideologues can use to glue together the various factions. 

Scenario Three: The third scenario involves dissolution, in which factors such as sustained military onslaught and eventual loss of a faction’s leader or his top commanders would lead to further fragmentation. This would give rise to the emergence of smaller splinter groups that could pose limited threat or may fizzle out with time. This situation is probable given that the deaths of leaders in some ‘terrorist’ or insurgent groups either result in  their replacement with another militants or the groups fragmented into smaller, harder to detect groups that tend to fight amongst themselves as much as their common enemy.  These smaller groups under new leadership could continue the insurgency, mutate into another group or get assimilated into a larger movement.  In such a situation, the feud between the factions may burn off naturally. 

Scenario Four: Another scenario is that of conspiration (a joint effort toward a particular end). This is a situation where leaders or supporters of a faction betray the rival group by revealing vital information about them to other actors or state forces in its desire to gain local support or undermine the existence of the group. An analyst has speculated that betrayal by one or both factions may explain the series of bombing in late August of 2016 around Sambisa Forest as well as Abadam, Mobbar or Kukuwa by the Nigeria Airforce targeted at destroying the leadership of both factions simultaneously, particularly Shekau.  

Considering the national and regional coalition forces as well as the Civilian CJTF (a loose group of civilians and militants that was formed in the city of  Maiduguri, Nigeria to help oust Boko Haram Islamist fighters from their city) made no distinction between al-Benawi and Shekau’s faction, therefore the potential for a conspiracy to occur was less probable since the outcome bodes ill for both the betraying and the betrayed faction. More so, should any of the faction engages is such infamy, it would have triggered a spin of betrayal that could end in mutual assured destruction of both factions. Actually, the potential for betrayal cannot be entirely ruled out. 

Infighting is nothing fundamentally new to the Boko Haram. The group has always had competing factions led by powerful local commanders who sometimes disagree over doctrine, targets and tactics of Islamic jihadism. However, the resorting to violent confrontations that marks the latest factional feud that bodes ill for the Boko Haram.  The existence of several factions will further complicate the security environment in the Lake Chad region, as several scenarios play out in the months ahead. It is too early to conclude precisely on how the factional feud will end, but the development holds positive outcomes for security and stability in the region if national and regional forces can capitalize on the current rift to further neutralize either or both factions. Infiltrating the ranks of Boko Haram by Nigerian state security forces has proven to be very difficult, but the recent leadership split offers a pin-hole for injecting some toxic attitudes within its members to make the group’s future become extremely bleak.

I hope my readers have found this article interesting and informative. 

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