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Boko Haram's mass kidnapping of Nigerian girls part of domestic and international strategy

Published on May 9, 2014 4:07 PM
Some of the hundreds of protesters demonstrating outside the Nigerian consulate in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 8, 2014, to bring attention to the girls abducted in Nigeria. -- PHOTO: EPA

The violent extremist group Boko Haram's brazen kidnappings of over 300 girls from a school and homes in north-eastern Nigeria in mid-April and over the last few days has revealed important and somewhat interrelated realities about Nigeria.

Boko Haram has seized the initiative from the Nigerian government. The group has sidestepped the government's attempts to minimize the crisis and now appears to be intentionally promoting itself as a significant extremist group on the global stage, using sustained shocking violence and pan-jihadist rhetoric to change how it's perceived by audiences beyond Nigeria and the region. In his video message claiming credit for the kidnapping, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau spoke both in the local language of Hausa and in Arabic in an attempt to find a broader audience and, in effect, brand his group as part of a longer history of groups fighting against perceived Muslim persecution. Already notorious in the border regions between Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, Shekau is seeking a broader audience.

The strategy behind the mass kidnapping is consistent with the group's aim of dominating swathes of the country through unrelenting terror. It is the scope of the kidnappings, recent murders, and the sheer audacity and barbarity of the acts that suggest the group sees itself moving into a new stage of infamy through action. While Al-Qaeda core's nominal leader Ayman al-Zawahiri hasn't publicly accepted Shekau's pledge of allegiance, Shekau is acting as if his group is a de facto affiliate, embracing the standard rhetoric of fighting historic injustices and oppression in the name of religion. Through its recent bombings in the capital and other mass attacks, Boko Haram has demonstrated one of the most important traits of any would-be successful terrorist group: sustained action.

The kidnappings have revealed the chasm between economic statistics and counterterrorism performance of the Nigerian government. The recent news that Nigeria is now the largest economy on the continent is indeed noteworthy and a justifiable accomplishment for the country. However, this economic advancement hasn't translated into an effective counterterrorism strategy. The uneven distribution of wealth in the country plays out in the absence of capable government forces that can maintain positive control over states such as Borno and Yobe. Increased revenues haven't resulted in disrupting the threat of Boko Haram and its offshoots. Quite the opposite, the terrorist group has been able to accelerate and escalate.

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