Since 2010, Boko Haram has acquired increasingly sophisticated weaponry, grown its ranks, and expanded its capacity to attack a variety of targets, primarily in northeastern Nigeria.
Boko Haram´s links to international networks, including al-Qaeda, became known to the Nigerian public in March 2014 through local media. A Nigerian newspaper claimed Boko Haram had been able to establish several training camps in neighbouring Cameroon and that the movement had maintained extensive links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for several years. It had also receiving advanced training, including in the manufacture and deployment of improvised explosive devices (IED).
This training has enabled the movement to introduce new types of terror attacks in Nigeria, using IEDs beyond their traditional role as roadside bombs.
One of the first known suicide attacks in Nigeria occurred on 16 June 2011, when a suicide bomber attacked law enforcement personnel in Nigeria´s capital, Abuja. At least three people were killed, including the suicide bomber who appeared to be from Sudan or Somalia, which indirectly confirmed Boko Haram´s links to al-Qaeda and other jihadi terror groups.
Boko Haram also introduced the use of vehicle-borne suicide bombers the same year. On 26 August, a suicide car attack was carried out against the UN headquarters in Abuja, killing at least 18 people. It was also at this time that Boko Haram began to target villages, churches, schools and universities. The movement also launched a campaign of kidnappings in the region, abducting women, girls and boys on a number of occasions. [fold]
On 13 July 2014, Boko Haram´s leader, Abubakar Shekau, officially stated the movements support for the efforts of the Islamic State (IS), after IS declared a Caliphate on territory belonging to Iraq and Syria. Also during that summer, it became obvious that Boko Haram was changing its tactics once again. The Nigerian security forces were unable to effectively deal with Boko Haram, and the movement started to hold on to territory that it seized.
During this time, the group published a video in which Abubakar Shekau gave a speech in a mix of Hausa and Arabic. According to the initial translations, it was widely believed that he declared the creation of a Caliphate, however, this translation later proved to be incorrect. Nevertheless, what he actually said, according to some translations and interpretations was, 'Thanks be to God who gave victory to our brothers in Gwoza and made it a state among the Islamic states.' He also stated that Boko Haram did not recognise Nigeria as a nation-state since the Muslim community (Ummah) cannot be divided by the borders, a classic jihadi argument.
Abubakar Shekau also rejected democracy in his speech, stating that the existence of democracy in Nigeria and neighbouring countries is one of the key reasons behind Boko Haram´s use of violence. According to Shekau, the movement will continue to use violence until democracy is rejected in the region and replaced by a correct interpretation and implementation of Sharia. The rejection of democracy draws upon another jihadi argument, that democracy is based upon man-made laws and thus opposes, by definition, the laws and the will of God. According to Shekau, democracy is actually worse than 'sodomy, adultery, and paganism.'
The situation in northern Nigeria grew significantly worse towards the end of 2014.
Nigerian security forces appeared to be demoralised. There were problems with soldiers deserting and several cases of self-mutilation. It also appeared as if security forces avoided confronting Boko Haram, even when reliable intelligence of its whereabouts was available. Boko Haram skillfully exploited the situation and increased the number of attacks against remote villages. As a result, more than 200,000 refugees searched for safety in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Boko Haram was also able to attack targets in neighbouring countries, such as Cameroon. Nigerian security forces had no choice but to start cooperating with military units from Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and allowed them to conduct military operations against Boko Haram on Nigerian territory. Despite this, Boko Haram has been able to maintain its momentum, and the deteriorating security situation has led to the postponement of a national election from 14 February to 28 March.
Boko Haram has released a number of propaganda videos over the years, but these have been of amateur quality. Recently, however, Boko Haram´s material has become increasingly sophisticated in terms of technical quality and editing. The movement also launched a Twitter account on 18 January 2015. It is highly probable that Boko Haram has started to receive various types of technical support from Islamic State regarding production and content.
The existence of a strong link between Boko Haram and Islamic State has been indicated by other factors as well. Islamic State announced in November 2014 that it had forged a number of alliances with jihadist groups in Northern Africa and the Middle East. On 7 March 2015, it became known that Boko Haram also pledged allegiance to Islamic State. The movements leadership published a message on its Twitter account, stating that Boko Haram will be loyal to Islamic State and its leadership, and that the movement 'will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity.'
Photo courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.