Nigeria: “What is Boko Haram?”

Suspected members of the Abu Mohammed-led faction of the radical Islamic sect Boko Haram , Bashir Ibrhim (L), Ibrahim Habibu (C) and Gambo Maiborodi, are presented to the media while awaiting official charges for alleged involvement in the kidnap and killing of an Italian and a British national, at the headquarters of the State Security Service headquarters in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, March 14, 2012. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

By John Campbell

Even as the mayhem has unfolded, Nigerians and Nigeria’s friends are struggling to understand Boko Haram. Ostensibly a radical Islamic movement, what are its goals? Who are its leaders? Is it a part of the international jihad dominated by Al Qaeda?

Some within the U.S. federal government see Boko Haram as a direct threat to the United States and are urging that it be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO.) Others see its focus as primarily within Nigeria with little international dimension.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) recently commissioned and published an online Special Report that explores these and other themes. The author of “What is Boko Haram?” is Andrew Walker, a British journalist who lived in Nigeria for four years and has covered it since 2006. He worked first for the Daily Trust and subsequently for BBC’s news website. At seventeen pages in length, this is an extensive study, based on interviews with Nigerian journalists and Walker’s own observations. Walker was able to interview a senior member of Boko Haram in Maiduguri, which is highly unusual for a Western journalist.

His piece is a must-read.

USIP is a non-partisan, congressionally-funded institution that works to end or prevent violent conflict around the world. It is prohibited from receiving private funding to ensure its independence.

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