NORTHEAST NIGERIA — Boko Haram has revived its once trademark hit-and-run raids on villages, killing at least eight people, kidnapping and displacing others, and burning homes in northeastern Nigeria and southeastern Niger villages Nov. 28-29, according to news reports.
The raids are the type of attacks Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has said he would be able to stop by the end of December, aided by a regional army of 8,700 soldiers. At the same time, Boko Haram has continued almost daily suicide attacks Buhari has said would be much more difficult to combat in Nigeria and neighboring countries.
While Buhari is having more success against Boko Haram than previous Nigerian administrations, he has simply been unable to defeat the strong militants, Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign for religious freedom and human rights said.
“Is there progress? Yes. But is Boko Haram actually curtailed? I would say no, that this government is doing what it can, but still is not able to fully capture or apprehend or destroy Boko Haram’s strongholds in the northeast of Nigeria,” said Buwalda. “They’re very strong there.”
Boko Haram attacked villages in Borno state and Adamawa in Nigeria, and in the Diffa region of Niger, the French news agency AFP (Agence France-Presse) reported. Days earlier, Boko Haram killed 18 people and injured 11 others during a raid in the village of Wogom located near the southeastern town of Bosso, Niger, on the Nigerian border, AFP reported.
In the attacks, Boko Haram arrived on bicycles and on foot, shot civilians indiscriminately, slit the throats of others, threw explosives into homes, and kidnapped some of the women and children, fleeing in vehicles they stole onsite, witnesses told AFP.
But the village attacks are not an indication that Boko Haram is gaining strength, said Buwalda, whose organization receives reports from the non-governmental organization Stefanos Foundation and others in Nigeria.
“They continue their efforts to terrorize the local population in the northeast,” Buwalda said. “But I don’t see that Boko Haram is at this very moment gaining territory. That’s not what I’ve observed in terms of their levels of attack.”
The hit-and-run raids, once a Boko Haram trademark, had declined in favor of suicide attacks in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, often conducted by women Boko Haram had kidnapped, according to news reports. Among the latest suicide bombings, two women killed five civilians and wounded two soldiers by blowing themselves up in northern Cameroon Nov. 28, and three suicide bombers killed three civilians in an attack Dec. 1, also in northern Cameroon, Reuters and AFP reported. Boko Haram has taken credit for a Nov. 28 suicide bombing in Kano, Nigeria, that killed 22 people, AFP reported.
A top United Nations official warned Dec. 1 that Boko Haram’s almost daily suicide attacks are an effort to expand by demonstrating its power to young potential recruits who are suffering from poverty and marginalization.
“Boko Haram is … convincing [recruits] that it is a sacrifice for the better. So we have to show them that they don’t have to die to have a better life,” Najat Rochdi, U.N. resident coordinator in Cameroon, told Reuters. He estimated Boko Haram’s numbers at 40,000 in the region, and said the militants are trying to establish an oil-rich Islamic state around Lake Chad.
More than 15 percent of children in the region are acutely malnourished, Rochdi told Reuters, and 2.2 million people are described as “food-insecure,” because of Boko Haram’s impact on farming and markets.
In Nigeria, the military had been hampered in fighting Boko Haram because a $2 billion arms scam diverted money that would have been used to supply the military with weapons, leading to the loss of thousands of lives, Buhari said. Nigeria arrested a former government official and a private business leader, charging them in connection with fraud and theft in procuring fighter jets, helicopters, weapons and ammunition that never materialized.
In efforts to abolish Christianity and establish Sharia law, Boko Haram had proclaimed Islamic caliphates or Sharia-based governments covering more than 20,000 square miles in northeast Nigeria before Buhari was elected. Nigeria’s military managed to recapture the land and establish sufficient peace to conduct nationwide elections, which had been delayed due to violence. Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people since Buhari took office, most of them by suicide bombings.
The regional military task force has enjoyed successes against Boko Haram. On Dec. 2, the military forces killed at least 100 Boko Haram members and freed 900 hostages, Cameroon military officials told Reuters.
Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS, is ranked by the 2015 Global Terrorism Index as the deadliest terrorist group in the world, exceeding ISIS. The GTI attributed more than 6,644 deaths to Boko Haram in 2014, with most attacks occurring in northeastern Nigeria. ISIS killed 6,073 in terrorist attacks in the same year, according to the report.
Boko Haram originally targeted Christians but has also killed moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians, killing as many as 20,000 people and displacing 2.6 million others since 2009, and displacing 2.5 million from their homes, according to estimates. The group has pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In 2014 alone, 42 percent of all attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria were on Christian communities, while 35.4 percent targeted random civilians, according to the Jubilee Campaign 2015 Report on Nigeria. Other attacks in 2014 targeted Muslim communities (6.8 percent), the government (10.9 percent), schools (4.1 percent), and media and medical personnel (0.5 percent), the Jubilee Campaign reported.
— by Diana Chandler | BP