Boko Haram continues to terrorise Nigeria after almost a decade of violence.
The Islamist insurgents – based in the northern states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna – have sparked a humanitarian crisis in the country, leaving more than 20,000 people dead and displacing a further two million through a sustained campaign of domestic terror, attacking government buildings, military bases and schools.
Its members seek to overthrow Nigeria’s political establishment and found an Islamic state under strict Sharia law in West Africa’s biggest economy.
Boko Haram was inaugurated in 2002 by the cleric Mohammed Yusuf in the city of Maiduguri. He established a mosque and school in order to preach Wahhibism, an ultra-conservative form of Islam. The organisation’s name in Arabic was Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which translates as “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.
The cult has become more widely known by its translation into Hausa: “Western education is forbidden.”
Yusuf and his acolytes believed Western Christian teaching, introduced to the region by British missionaries under colonialism following the fall of the Sokoto caliphate in 1903, was responsible for entrenching the status quo in a country in which 60 per cent of the population live in dire poverty on less than $1 a day.
Nigeria’s wealth is concentrated in the predominantly Christian south and the group sought to foster and cultivate resentment among local Muslims, particularly the unemployed. Boko Haram stands against all aspects of Western culture, prohibiting its adherents from wearing imported clothing or voting in national elections.
Yusuf’s school quickly became radicalised as a jihadi recruitment camp and is rumoured to have received a portion of the $1.8m (£1.3m) Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda distributed in West Africa to bankroll Islamist terror in the aftermath of 11 September
Their first known attacks came in December 2003 with a series of assaults on Yobe police stations on the Niger border, in which 200 militants were involved.
Boko Haram quietly built their regional influence thereafter before becoming fully militarised in 2009, staging an uprising in Bauchi that summer that saw its fighters attack police officers.
Seven hundred of their own men were killed when a military task force responded. Yusuf was arrested and subsequently died in police custody, officially during an escape attempt but Boko Haram remains convinced he was murdered.
Yusuf was succeeded by his ruthless deputy Abubakar Shekau and, over the next five years, the group continued to conduct a reign of terror, with gunmen on motorbikes carrying out drive-by assassinations on policemen, politicians or clergymen who dared to speak out against them.