The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram’s abduction of over 200 girls from a school in the country’s remote northeast has become a target of global outcry. But Boko Haram has been up to far more than the kidnappings.
Over the past few days, the jihadist group pulled off one of the biggest bombing attacks in its history, in the middle of one Nigeria’s largest cities, and massacred farmers in the country’s periphery. And these attacks came just a couple of weeks after the group killed over 300 people in a single, five-hour rampage.
Today, Boko Haram killed dozens of farmers working in their fields in northeastern Nigeria. The organisation was likely behind Tuesday’s simultaneous bomb attacks in the city of Jos that killed at least 118 people, and was responsible for the massacre of over 300 villagers in early May.
Overall, Boko Haram has killed over 2,000 people this year, compared to 3,000 between 2010 and 2013.
One analyst told CNN that the bombings in Jos were part of Boko Haram’s attempt at spreading the Nigerian security services’ attention as thinly as possible, while demonstrating the organisation’s ability to strike outside of its base in the country’s northeast.
Boko Haram is pulling off sophisticated and increasingly-deadly attacks over a broad geographic area, even as the kidnapping saga has drawn the attention of Nigeria’s neighbours and the United States military. Jos and the site of the today’s attacks are over 350 miles away from each other, highlighting the group’s increasingly national-level capabilities.
Boko Haram seems determined to expand its area of operations beyond Nigeria’s remote northeast. And the frequency and even simulteneity of their attacks is another sign that the group can deliver on this grim ambition. Last week, for instance, Boko Haram killed as many as 300 people over the course of a single, five-hour attack in the village of Gamboru Ngala, in what might have partly been an attempt to distract authorities searching for the abducted girls.
It’s the increasing breadth of the group’s apparent capabilities, and their determination to strike beyond Nigeria’s northeastern border region, that will make Boko Haram an alarming regional threat however the abduction crisis ends.
Boko Haram wasn’t always viewed as such a wide-reaching problem. It wasn’t designated as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. until November of 2013, partly because the Nigerian government believed that such a move would make it more difficult to negotiate with the group, and because some U.S. policymakers didn’t consider it a direct enough threat to U.S. national security.
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