Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” is an Islamic extremist organization based in northeastern Nigeria. Mohammed Yusuf, an influential cleric in the region, formed the group in 2002 with the expectation of creating a strict Islamic state in the predominately Muslim northern half of the country.
In 2009, Yusuf led an uprising against the Nigerian government that left hundreds dead. As a direct result, police captured and killed Yusuf. Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf’s second in command, took charge of the group and launched an insurgency that continues today. The conflict has killed over 32,000 people and displaced 2.3 million. Boko Haram has since expanded its operations into neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
Shekau pledged his allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. In August 2016, ISIS announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Yusuf, replaced Shekau as the leader of Boko Haram. Shekau refused to cede authority, causing the group to split. His faction remained Boko Haram, and those loyal to Barnawi became ISIS West Africa.
Threat to New Jersey: Low
Boko Haram has never conducted an attack in the United States, and its operational capability is limited due to its focus on operations in Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria, as well as competition for support from ISIS West Africa. From January 2018 to March 2019, Boko Haram conducted large-scale attacks that resulted in approximately 307 fatalities within its operational regions near the borders of Nigeria.
In 2014, the group kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, a village in northeastern Nigeria. In October 2016, 22 of the schoolgirls were rescued following negotiations with the Nigerian government, 83 more were freed in May 2017, and an additional 57 escaped as of September 2017.
Two suicide attacks in May at a mosque and market in Mubi, Nigeria, killed at least 86 people and injured 58. In June, at least 43 people were killed and 84 injured when six female suicide bombers detonated explosives in the Damboa local government area in Nigeria.
In November, Boko Haram attacked a military base in the Nigerian town of Metele, killing 118 soldiers and leaving 153 missing. Militants seized tanks, armored vehicles, weapons, and ammunition during the attack. Boko Haram attacked the town of Rann, Nigeria, in January in a mass-burning event, killing 60 people and destroying numerous structures.
Boko Haram is unlikely to inspire homegrown violent extremists in the United States because of its prioritization of local Nigerian issues over global extremist narratives and its focus on carrying out attacks locally. Although the group has only attacked US interests regionally, the US Government has expressed concern that the threat from Boko Haram could spread to justify military action.
Boko Haram’s media outreach focuses exclusively on regional issues, including criticism of the Nigerian government, calls for violence against civilians, and demands for an Islamic state in Nigeria. The group does not encourage Westerners to travel and join its ranks.
In March 2017, Nigerian authorities disrupted an alleged Boko Haram-orchestrated plot to attack the US and British embassies in the capital city of Abuja. Five suspects were arrested after they “perfected plans” for the attack.
A letter sent to Congress in June 2017 outlined US Armed Forces deployments, including in Cameroon, where “approximately 300 US military personnel are also deployed, the bulk of whom are supporting US airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations” on Boko Haram fighters. This deployment marks the most direct involvement by the United States in the campaign against Boko Haram.