Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is forbidden,” is an Islamic extremist organization based in northeastern Nigeria that pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. In August 2016, ISIS unilaterally announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi would replace Abubakar Shekau as the leader of Boko Haram. Shekau refused to cede authority, and Boko Haram militants remain factionalized in their loyalties.
Since 2009, Boko Haram has killed an estimated 20,000 and displaced 2.3 million. In 2014, the group kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from 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.
Boko Haram fatalities remained relatively consistent, from 3,484 in 2016 to 3,329 in 2017, according to research from BBC Monitoring. The group reportedly carried out 150 attacks in 2017, up from the 127 attacks in 2016, defying Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s assertion that the militants have been defeated. Nigeria was the most frequently attacked location in 2017, with armed assault as the most common attack method.
In November 2014, a regional Multinational Joint Task Force consisting of approximately 8,700 military personnel from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria was established to combat Boko Haram. Currently, there is considerable skepticism in the international community that the force can deliver results, as the group continues to operate within these countries.
Threat to New Jersey: Low
Boko Haram has never conducted an attack in the United States and is largely focused on kidnapping Westerners in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin. Further, Boko Haram’s operational capability is limited due to group infighting since pledging allegiance to ISIS.
Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for at least five kidnappings of Westerners since 2012. In July 2017, Boko Haram insurgents ambushed an oil exploration team in northeastern Nigeria, kidnapping at least 10 and killing more than 50. Following the kidnapping, the group released a video in English showing three abductees asking viewers to meet the captors’ demands. In 2017, Boko Haram, to buy weapons and recruit fighters, used ransom money that the Nigerian government paid to free 83 Chibok schoolgirls.
In September 2016, militants loyal to ISIS-appointed al-Barnawi clashed with those loyal to Shekau, resulting in the death of several key members of Shekau’s faction. ISIS and Boko Haram both claimed responsibility for approximately 13 of 151 attacks carried out by Boko Haram in 2017, suggesting operational links between the two groups are weak. The disparate nature of Boko Haram may make it difficult for ISIS to issue claims, as it cannot verify which faction is behind an attack.
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 the group 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’s language does not include any encouragement of 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.
In June 2017, a letter was sent to Congress outlining current US Armed Forces deployments, including 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 US involvement to date in the campaign against Boko Haram.