Boko Haram, which refers to itself as “Jama‘atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Da‘awati wal-Jihad” (JASDJ; Group of the Sunni People for the Calling and Jihad) and “Nigerian Taliban”—other translations and variants are used—is a Nigeria-based group that seeks to overthrow the current Nigerian Government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law. It is popularly known in Nigerian and Western media as “Boko Haram,” which means “Western education is forbidden” (the word boko is a holdover from the colonial English word for book). The group, which has existed in various forms since the late 1990s, suffered setbacks in July 2009 when clashes with Nigerian Government forces led to the deaths of hundreds of its members, including former leader Muhammad Yusuf.
In July 2010, Boko Haram’s former second-in-command, Abubakar Shekau, appeared in a video claiming leadership of the group and threatening attacks on Western influences in Nigeria. Later that month, Shekau issued a second statement expressing solidarity with al-Qa‘ida and threatening the United States. Under Shekau’s leadership, the group has continued to demonstrate growing operational capabilities, with an increasing use of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against soft targets. The group set off its first vehicle-borne IED in June 2011. On 26 August 2011, Boko Haram conducted its first attack against a Western interest—a vehicle-bomb attack on UN headquarters in Abuja—killing at least 23 people and injuring more than 80. A purported Boko Haram spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and promised future targeting of US and Nigerian Government interests.
Boko Haram’s capability has increased in 2014, with the group conducting near-daily attacks against a wide range of targets, including Christians, Nigerian security and police forces, the media, schools, politicians, and Muslims perceived as collaborators. Boko Haram continues to expand its activity into neighboring countries and has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of 11 Westerners in Cameroon since early 2013, raising the group’s international profile and emphasizing the growing threat it poses to Western and regional interests.
Boko Haram’s unprecedented levels of violence—including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Borno State, Nigeria, in April 2014—have brought international condemnation as well as collaboration on security initiatives by the United States, United Kingdom, France, African partners, and others as Nigerian and other regional security forces continue to try to oust the group from northeastern Nigeria and its safe havens throughout the area.
The US State Department designated Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization in November 2013.