Boko Haram: Intentions, capabilities and Threat assessment. Dominica Giantas

 

During recent years, the rise of Boko Haram has become an important topic among policy makers and academics from the region of Western Africa and lately from European countries and USA. Yet, the profile of the sect remains unclear and contested.

Boko Haram as an Islamist group supports the establishment of a caliphate under a sharia law. It is the core of its intentions and a key element of its actions. At the same time, the extremist movement has gained many assets, such as major financial sources, a tank of dedicated fighters and great armory, which altogether constitute a strong foundation to promote Boko Haram’s goals. Based on these two factors, there are several scenarios about the group’s actions in the nearest future. This paper examines both the intentions and capabilities of Boko Haram and provides an assessment of the threat that the group could constitute in the short term future.

 

Intentions

Boko Haram (or “People Committed for the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”) is a militant Islamist group emerged in 2002 in Northeastern Nigeria, with the objective to overthrow the Nigerian government, which was corrupt, and established an Islamic state under the sharia law.[1]

Initially, the movement founded by the Salafist preacher Mohammed Yusuf, who was nonviolent and focused mostly on the religious education[2] and practicing and preaching an austere form of Salafism[3]. Boko Haram loosely translates to ‘Western education is forbidden’,[4] so it rejects western influences and standards.

In 2009, tensions and confrontation between the Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram followers led to Boko Haram uprising and the death of more than 1,000 people, including the extrajudicial execution of Yusuf. These events sparked a transformation of the movement into more aggressive and extremist and focus was put not only on da’ wa (proselytizing or preaching of Islam[5]) but also on the jihad. Following the death of its founder in 2009, the group went underground for a while. However, the movement’s intentions radically changed and the radicalisation and extremism were accentuated under the leadership of Abubaker Shekau.[6] Boko Haram received training and support from al-Qaeda.[7] The once preachers and now jihadists began to carry out cross-border attacks and launched a military campaign to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. Boko Haram evolved into an active insurgency, using asymmetric warfare to further its goals. The legitimate targets of its violence are Christians, Muslims[8] and the Nigerian government.

The shift which occurred in the intentions and goals of the group became clear with a series of military actions against Nigerian and foreign targets in 2011. In June, the followers launched a suicide attack on a Nigerian police station, which was the first time the group launched this type of attack.[9] In August 2011 Boko Haram conducted its first bomb attack on a foreign target, the UN headquarters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, killing 23 people.[10]

 

According to BBC (2013) this attack was the clearest indication that Boko Haram saw itself as part of a global jihadist movement.[11] Since then, the attacks of Boko Haram have grown in intensity and scope. The organisation has also strengthened its international linkages and conducted attacks on mosques and schools.[12]  Moreover, the group has launched attacks against police stations, federal buildings, security forces, banks, money convoys, media and telecommunications towers. In the meantime, Boko Haram has also targeted some institutions of Western countries.[13]

 

Capabilities

Since its emergence, Boko Haram has demonstrated increasing capabilities and sophistication and has grown rapidly in confidence and coordination. Only in 2014, media sources reported 7,711 deaths due to Boko Haram-related violence.[14] Largely due to Boko Haram, Nigeria faced an increase of more than 300% in terrorism-related deaths in 2014.[15] The main elements that constitute the capabilities of Boko Haram are recruits, financing sources and weaponry.

  1. Recruitment and militants

Boko Haram uses religious preaching as a recruitment tool.[16] There are some members who joined Boko Haram due to their belief in the group’s religious ideology and the lure of fighting against “un-Islamic” elements. Others support the group’s agenda of creating an Islamic state and erasing the western influences and presence in Africa. They usually perceive the governance in Nigeria as corrupt, with no legitimacy and unable to provide communities the needed facilities and infrastructure. The neglect of citizen welfare feeds the extremist narrative of groups, such as Boko Haram. [17] The group takes advantage of the government inadequacies and the complains and grievances felt by locals to gain a foothold in communities.

Many young Africans join the extremist group but they do not know much about religious texts and interpretations. Their main goal is to find a job and secure an income for them and their families and to escape from poverty and unemployment. According to the United States Institute of Peace, it is the poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and weak family structures that make or contribute to making young men vulnerable to radicalisation.[18] The World Bank provides the data for the unemployment rate in Nigeria, which was 7,60%  in 2012 and for the poverty rate, which was 46% in 2009. [19] Poorer countries and regions remain exposed to higher risk for conflict because poverty increases the attraction of financial compensation for participating in political violence.[20]

What is more, Boko Haram became notorious for abducting children and forcing captives to join the group. Between 2014 and 2016, the group reportedly abducted 10,000 boys and trained them as child jihadists.[21]

Many young entrepreneurs are being lured by Boko Haram, which, as a part of its “clandestine dispensation” offers loans to young butchers, traders, tailors, beauticians and other vocational entrepreneurs. [22] Many young people joined Boko Haram with the hope of receiving financial support for their businesses.

Some of Boko Haram’s fighters have apparently joined the group for criminal purposes, such as bank robberies and kidnapping.[23] Recruits may also be drawn to join the group due to familial ties to other members. Influences from social and business environment are very important factors too and strongly affect the decisions of many individuals.[24]

In the meantime, the members of Boko Haram come from diverse economic, social and ethnic backgrounds.[25] Specifically, there is much indifference in the profiles of the recruits. For example, some are part of the poor and vulnerable populations and often grew up in impoverished environment, while others belong to the emerging group of young entrepreneurs and businessmen, well- educated and from stable economic backgrounds. Additionally, Boko Haram gains supporters and fighters who join the group voluntarily but has also become infamous for abducting and coercing the captives to participate. Boko Haram’s recruitment now includes hundreds, if not thousands, of forcibly conscripted boys and girls, who are often taken to and “re-educated” in Cameroon.[26] There is no single determining factor which leads people to join terrorist organisations, such as Boko Haram. Boko Haram constitutes a complex picture of different motivation of its members. In consequence, the levels of their participation and dedication to the implementation of the group’s goals reflect great variety.

 

  1. Financing

Boko Haram generated income streams of at least $10 million a year in 2014-15.[27] One of the funding sources, of significant importance in order for the group to operate, is kidnapping local politicians, villagers and foreigners for ransom. In 2014, ransom was reportedly the group’s largest source of funding, with U.S. officials believing Boko Haram made “as much as $1 million for the release of each abducted wealthy Nigerian”.[28]

Another source is taxation and extortion. Boko Haram raises funds by enforcing membership fees and using extortion methods against politicians, citizens, business owners and Nigerian government, offering “protection” in exchange for cash.[29]

Boko Haram is also involved in human and arms trafficking. It kidnaps girls and women, sells captives into sex slavery and uses them as leverage. Through arms trafficking it ensures the acquisition of weapons. Particularly, the extremist group has abducted more than 2,000 girls in 2014-15.[30]McCoy indicates “kidnapping has become one of [Boko Haram’s] primary funding sources, a way to extract concessions from the Nigerian state and other governments, and a threat to foreigners and Nigerian government officials.”[31]

The extremist group has relied heavily on bank robberies as a source of its income. The group robbed at least 30 banks in 2011, justifying the robberies as religiously-sanctioned “spoils of war”.[32] A 2014 estimate put Boko Haram’s overall revenue from bank robberies at $6 million.[33] Bank robberies are still a main source of income for Boko Haram, but the number of bank robberies has declined as Boko Haram has lost territory since 2014.[34]

Additionally, Boko Haram has received funding from Al Qaeda.[35] In 2002, Osama Bin Laden sent an aid to Nigeria with $3 million.[36] AQIM, al-Shabaab, and other terrorist groups have provided consistent funding.[37]The movement has also received financial support from local sympathizers and politicians and has gained money through fake charities.

 

  1. Arsenal

Boko Haram’s weapons are stolen, improvised or purchased on the black market.[38] The group possesses weapons such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, pickup trucks that have been adapted to carry heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, bombs and shells which are mostly manufactured with improvisation and its arsenal is predominantly of Russian or Eastern European stock.[39] Boko Haram steals most of its equipment and weaponry from the Nigerian army during attacks on military facilities. What is more, it has access to arms-smuggling networks and cross-border transit routes, which enable Boko Haram to expand its armory and improve its capabilities.[40] For instance, Hathorn and Abbott (2015) claim that Boko Haram has used the saturated post-conflict markets across West Africa, from Western Sahara down to Benin, together with Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.[41]

 

Scenarios

Based on the information about the intentions and capabilities of Boko Haram, there can be drawn some scenarios about the group’s future actions.

Highly likely: The most possible scenario is that Boko Haram deploys all its capabilities in order to promote the goals of occupying new territories, confronting with the Nigerian government and military forces and reinforcing the caliphate, the establishment of which they announced in 2014.[42] The poor governance, corruption, infrastructure neglect, social and economic disparities, extreme poverty which hit Nigeria and the bordering countries create an environment in which Boko Haram can upgrade its capabilities in weapons and human force and so support its aggressive intentions.  Boko Haram probably will continue to conduct kidnappings, fire suicide and small arms attacks against soft targets such as hospitals, education centers and churches and clash with Nigerian military forces. All in all, the group will use all its assets and capabilities to reach its goals.

Likely: A scenario in which Boko Haram does not have the capabilities needed to meet its intentions is likely. There are some factors which could undermine the capabilities of Boko Haram. Specifically, government improvements, more economic opportunities, less corruption can weaken Boko Haram’s ability to recruit, since they can improve life standards and weaken the motivation of people to join the extremist group. What is more, some sources of funding could be cut off, for example through the commitments by Nigeria and other nations to not pay ransom. Reportedly, in 2016 the Nigerian government denied paying millions of dollars to convince the Islamists to free 21 kidnapped school girls.[43] Finally, Boko Haram’s armory can be damaged due to some operations conducted by the Nigerian army aiming at recovery of weapons. For instance, in 2018 troops of Operation Lafiya Dole successfully recovered some battle tanks and other weapons from Boko Haram.[44]

 

Unlikely: An unlikely scenario suggests that Boko Haram may not have the intentions and will to use appropriately its capabilities due to a complete amendment of the group’s established strategy and tactic of achieving defined goals. In particular, the group could quit the extremism practices and jihad and return to the initially nonviolent way of promoting the aim of creating an Islamic state in the region of Nigeria. This could lead to a more passive stance and inactivity of the group, which would distance itself from attacks on populations, military and government targets.

The improbability of this scenario comes from the fact that the movement of Boko Haram exists since the early 2000s and has attracted thousands of supporters and fighters, has inspired them and gave them a vision and a goal to reach for. In other words, Boko Haram cumulates an extremely persistent, violent, unwilling for compromises and committed to the spread of jihad and extremist ideology body of supporters and fighters. The jihad and extremist ideology have been solidified over the years. In this case, it seems highly impossible to notice a complete transformation of the character of Boko Haram. Eventually, the kidnappings of more than 100 schoolgirls in Nigeria in February 2018 affirm this scenario. [45]

EDITOR: SOFIA TZAMARELOY Intelligence Research Team Coordinator.

 

[1] Barna, J. (2014, July). Insecurity in context: The rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Policy Department, Directorate-General for External Policies. Retrieved from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/536393/EXPO-AFET_NT%282014%29536393_EN.pdf

[2] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[3] Pérouse de Montclos, M-A. (2014). Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria. West African Politics and Society Series, Vol. 2. French Institute for Research in Africa. Retrieved from: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/23853/ASC-075287668-3441-01.pdf

[4] Barna, J. (2014, July). Insecurity in context: The rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Policy Department, Directorate-General for External Policies. Retrieved from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/536393/EXPO-AFET_NT%282014%29536393_EN.pdf

[5] Quazi, M. (2017, May 19). The right way to preach Islam. The Kashmir Monitor. Retrieved from: https://kashmirmonitor.in/Details/124189/the-right-way-to-preach-islam

[6] Barna, J. (2014, July). Insecurity in context: The rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Policy Department, Directorate-General for External Policies. Retrieved from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/536393/EXPO-AFET_NT%282014%29536393_EN.pdf

[7] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[8] Vybíralová, L. (2016, June). Nigeria and Boko Haram: The roots of political violence. Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of International Relations. Retrieved from: https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/jaro2016/MVZ489/61907258/Essay.pdf

[9] BBC (2011, June 17). Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists ‘bombed Abuja police HQ’. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13805688

[10]BBC (2011, June 17). Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists ‘bombed Abuja police HQ’. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13805688

[11]BBC (2011, June 17). Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists ‘bombed Abuja police HQ’. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13805688

[12]http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/536393/EXPO-AFET_NT%282014%29536393_EN.pdf

[13] Barna, J. (2014, July). Insecurity in context: The rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Policy Department, Directorate-General for External Policies. Retrieved from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/536393/EXPO-AFET_NT%282014%29536393_EN.pdf

[14] n.a. (2014, January 20). Nigeria: Boko Haram Insurgency. ACAPS Briefing Note. Retrieved from: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/b-acaps-briefing-note-nigeria-boko-haram-insurgency.pdf

[15] Manning, A. (n.d). By the Numbers: Boko Haram Is Worse Than ISIS. Huffington Post. Retrieved from:https://www.huffingtonpost.com/vocativ/by-the-numbers-boko-haram_b_8612084.html

[16] Alfred, C. (2017, January 7). Why people join Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/boko-haram-recruitment-tactics_us_571265afe4b06f35cb6fc595

[17]Onuoha, F. C. (2014, June). Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram? United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR348-Why_do_Youth_Join_Boko_Haram.pdf

[18] Onuoha, F. C. (2014, June). Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram? United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from: https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR348-Why_do_Youth_Join_Boko_Haram.pdf

[19] the number of unemployed people as percent of the labor force.

The World Bank. (n.d). Unemployment rate-country rankings. The Global Economy. Retrieved from: https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/Unemployment_rate/

World Bank Group (2017, October). Country Poverty Brief Nigeria. Retrieved from: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/poverty/B2A3A7F5-706A-4522-AF99-5B1800FA3357/9FE8B43A-5EAE-4F36-8838-E9F58200CF49/60C691C8-EAD0-47BE-9C8A-B56D672A29F7/Global_POV_SP_CPB_NGA.pdf

[20] Mercy Corps. (2016, April). Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth. Retrieved from: https://www.mercycorps.org/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf

[21] Hinshaw, D. & Parkinson, J. (2016, August 12). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-kidnapped-boys-of-boko-haram-1471013062

[22] Gigova, R. (2016, April 21). Boko Haram luring young people with loans, Nigerian military says. CNN. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/21/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-loans-entrepreneurs/

[23] Hickie, S., Abbott, C. & Clarke, M. (2018, January). Remote Warfare and the Boko Haram Insurgency. Oxford Research Group. Retrieved from: http://oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/sites/default/files/Boko%20Haram%20report-Final.pdf

[24] Mercy Corps. (2016, April). Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth. Retrieved from: https://www.mercycorps.org/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf

[25] Mercy Corps. (2016, April). Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth. Retrieved from: https://www.mercycorps.org/sites/default/files/Motivations%20and%20Empty%20Promises_Mercy%20Corps_Full%20Report_0.pdf

[26] Zenn, J. (2014, October). Boko Haram: Recruitment, Financing, and Arms Trafficking in the Lake Chad Region. Combating Terrorism Center. Vol. 7, Issue 10. Retrieved from: https://ctc.usma.edu/boko-haram-recruitment-financing-and-arms-trafficking-in-the-lake-chad-region/

[27] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[28] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[29] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[30] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[31] McCoy, T. (2014, June 6). Paying for terrorism: Where does Boko Haram gets its money from? Independent. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/paying-for-terrorism-where-does-boko-haram-gets-its-money-from-9503948.html

[32] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[33] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[34] Rock, J. L (2016, December). The funding of Boko Haram and Nigeria’s actions to stop it. Calhoun Institutional Archive of the Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved from: https://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/51603/16Dec_Rock_Jason.pdf?sequence=1

[35] Simonelli, C., Jensen, M., Castro-Reina, A., Pate, A., Menner, S., & Miller, E. (2014, May). Boko Haram Recent Attacks. Start. Retrieved from: https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/STARTBackgroundReport_BokoHaramRecentAttacks_May2014_0.pdf

[36] Rock, J. L (2016, December). The funding of Boko Haram and Nigeria’s actions to stop it. Calhoun Institutional Archive of the Naval Postgraduate School. Retrieved from: https://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/51603/16Dec_Rock_Jason.pdf?sequence=1

[37] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[38] N.a (2015, March 12). Intelligence brief. Reducing the supply of weapons to Boko Haram. Open briefing. Retrieved from: https://www.openbriefing.org/docs/Reducing-the-supply-of-weapons-to-Boko-Haram.pdf

[39] N.a (2015, March 12). Intelligence brief. Reducing the supply of weapons to Boko Haram. Open briefing. Retrieved from: https://www.openbriefing.org/docs/Reducing-the-supply-of-weapons-to-Boko-Haram.pdf

[40] Fanusie, Y. J. & Entz, A. (2017, May). Boko Haram Financial Assessment. Terror Finance Briefing Book. Center on Sanctions & Illicit Finance. Retrieved from: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/content/uploads/documents/CSIF_Boko_Haram.pdf

[41] Hathorn, S. & Abbott, C. (2015, March 12). Intelligence brief: Reducing the supply of weapons to Boko Haram. Open Briefing. Retrieved from: https://www.openbriefing.org/publications/intelligence-briefings/reducing-the-supply-of-weapons-to-boko-haram/

[42] Vybíralová, L. (2016, June). Nigeria and Boko Haram: The roots of political violence. Masaryk University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of International Relations. Retrieved from: https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/jaro2016/MVZ489/61907258/Essay.pdf

[43] Burke, J. (2016, October 14). Nigeria denies paying ransom and freeing Boko Haram leaders for Chibok girls. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/14/boko-haram-chibok-girls-nigeria-denies-paying-ransom-and-freeing-leaders

[44] News in Africa. (2018, February 2). Boko Haram fighters lose weapons. Retrieved from: http://newsinafrica.co/2018/02/02/boko-haram-fighters-lose-weapons/

[45] The Guardian. (2018, February 25). Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/25/over-100-schoolgirls-missing-after-boko-haram-attack-in-nigeria