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Friday, March 31, 2023

New Study Shows Boko Haram Recruited by People They Know

Members of the AlQaeda affiliated jihadi organization Boko Haram are most often recruited by people they already know, such as friends and family – not by people in mosques or madrasas, according to a groundbreaking new study by Dr. Anneli Botha and Mahdi Abdile.

The study also found women have larger responsibilities in Boko Haram than previously thought, and that recruiters are adaptive to the tightening security environment.

According to the study, “Boko Haram members are most often recruited by people they already know. During the interviews, former Boko Haram fighters explained that people close to them – friends, family and relatives – introduced 60 percent of them to the organization. Contrary to common perceptions, only 27 percent of former fighters were introduced to the group at mosques or madrasas.”

According to study, mosques provide a gathering place, but they have not necessarily served as a recruiting space. There was very little evidence of individual “firebrand” Imams preaching on the side of Boko Haram to facilitate recruitment, the study found.

“In the pre-9/11 world, mosques and madrasas used to be the place to get new recruits. Today that has changed," said study co-author, Mahdi Abdile, Director of Research and Countering Violent Extremism at Finn Church Aid (FCA), the largest NGO for development cooperation in Finland who serves in the same position at The Network for Traditional and Religious Peacemakers. He is also a fellow and senior researcher at the European Institute of Peace.

The study was conducted by FCA, The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), The Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Citizen Research Centre. It follows similar research by the same authors who conducted the September 2014 report, Radicalisation and Al Shabaab Recruitment in Somalia.

Co-author Mahdi Abdile worked as a senior researcher on terrorism at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, South Africa and traveled throughout Africa where she conducted research on terrorism and delivered specialized training on various aspects of the threat of terrorism, extremism, radicalisation and counterterrorism to law enforcement and criminal justice officials in a number of countries on the continent. Prior to her position at ISS, she served in the South African Police Service for 10 years and was a founding member of the Religious Extremism and Terrorism Desk at Crime Intelligence Head Office and served in the Rapid Reaction Unit and the Special Task Force on Urban Terror in the West Cape. At the end of her police career she provided strategic support to the Head of South Africa’s Crime Intelligence Unit.

One Hundred Nineteen former Boko Haram members were interviewed in December 2015 in Yola and Maiduguri in Nigeria – a sample of ex-fighters larger than in any previous research on the group.

"We always aim for primary source research. Without real first-hand information it is impossible to understand the complexity of the situation, or plan prevention or reintegration initiatives,” said Antti Pentikäinen, executive director of TheNetwork for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

“This research reinforces the key role of religious leaders in defusing religious tensions and preventing radicalisation. As influencers and role models they can prevent manipulation and misinterpretation of religion by violent extremists. We believe it is crucial that religious leaders are equipped with skills in interreligious dialogue and understanding,” stated Fahad Abualnasr, KAICIID Director General.

“The results of this study highlight the fact that recruiters are adaptive to the tightening security environment, and more than ever before, that women and young girls are increasingly being targeted for recruitment,” according to the study.

Women are also more active in recruiting and intelligence gathering.

“Boko Haram is internationally known especially for its strategy of kidnapping young girls,” but according the study, female Boko Haram members were far more likely to be introduced to the group by force than males. Furthermore, male Boko Haram members were more likely to report joining as a personal decision (11 percent) than females (2 percent).

The study, however, refuted the “common perception that women predominately serve as wives, or that only women provide domestic support services like cooking and cleaning. In Boko Haram, both men and women provide these services. Within the research sample, women even surpassed theirmale counterparts as recruiters (12 and seven) and as intelligence operatives (eight and six).

“This large role of women in Boko Haram was one of the most surprising results we got. For example, in Al Shabab women basically do not have an active role at all,” Abdile said.

The study identified a variety of key factors behind the reasons for joining Boko Haram. The principal reasons are: revenge, religion and personal needs.

The study found 57 percent of former Boko Haram fighters “identified the desire for revenge as having a strong influence on their decision to join, or being the only reason for it. The target of the revenge was the military, which according to Boko Haram fighters, is brutal, merciless and pitiless.”

Therefore, the study said, “military initiatives and actions should be considered carefully, and must not be counterproductive. Very clear rules of engagement are needed, especially in cases involving non-combatants in order to prevent future radicalization.

Forty-three percent of “former fighters indicated that religion had a strong influence on their decision to join Boko Haram. However, according to the interviewees, Boko Haram was not following the true teachings of Islam. Those who joined for religious reasons were vulnerable and not familiar enough with the teachings of the Qur’an to know better.”

“First of all, we were carried away by the name of Islam, we were told to go and do Jihad (holy war). After that we came to discover that it was a deceitful way of introducing us into another part of the world,” the study quoted a former member.

More than 23 percent of Boko Haram respondents said they joined Boko Haram to be respected and feared, while 17 percent stated a need to belong.

Another stated: “If any Boko Haram member tells you he is feeling fine he is a bloody liar. To do so we go about roaming in the bush, we have no good food, we do not bath.”

“Fear [also] played an important role in all the phases of Boko Haram’s activity: recruitment, joining and being a member. Former fighters described a feeling of fear in Boko Haram when being a member and after leaving the group. This fear should be countered by reintegrating former Boko Haram fighters into society, and by involving local communities in helping individuals to feel like a part of a strong community.”

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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