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Boko Haram Expands, Launches ISIS-Style Social Media Presence

Long focused on Nigeria, and perhaps therefore not troubling international media a great deal, Boko Haram recently extended its reach with attacks in Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

On February 13 in Ngouboua, Chad, Boko Haram jihadists launched attacks against civilians, killing scores including the local traditional leader. Prior to this, at least 20 bus passengers were kidnapped at the hands of Boko Haram on February 8 in Kerawa, Cameroon, and the February 6-8 attacks in Diffa, Niger created a 15 day state of emergency. Chad, Cameroon and Niger have joined the offensive against Boko Haram along with Burundi and the Central African Republic, all pledging the support of their troops. Cameroon and Niger have reportedly arrested hundreds of suspected Boko Haram militants in February alone.

In January, Nigeria’s national security adviser told BBC Nigeria did not need the help of the United Nations (UN) to deal with Boko Haram, adding that Nigeria and its neighbors were “in good shape” to take on the group.

Nigeria has often downplayed the impact of Boko Haram, often commenting that death tolls reported by the UN and international media are overestimated. Its government also fails to condemn attacks or publicly state its intentions on a regular basis, but conversely was one of the first nations to condemn last month’s attacks in Paris.

Nigeria is not, however, turning a blind eye. On February 18, military action claimed to have killed over 300 Boko Haram fighters. The deaths have not as yet been independently verified.

In January, Boko Haram launched its official Twitter feed – a sign that it is learning from the likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) that social media is one of the most valuable tools in recruiting followers. It had previously shied away from any kind of online promotion or social media involvement.

It’s Twitter activities have been disrupted, following suspension of its feed by Twitter, but it has contained propaganda messages and videos, emulating ISIS. It is likely that far from simply emulating ISIS, Boko Haram has assistance in social media expertise from inside ISIS – a fact supported by the quality of imagery, its reference to the Islamic State and Islamic Caliphate and the techniques used in the propaganda messages and videos.

Boko Haram’s use of social media so far, though, is not as slick or sophisticated as that of either Al Qaeda or ISIS, but its foray into Twitter, coupled with the fact that it is both comfortable and able to launch attacks outside its stronghold, presents concern for the wider international community.

If the attacks had merely moved from Nigeria to a neighboring country, it could be deduced that Nigeria was getting the better of Boko Haram, pushing them out. However, attacks in Nigeria continue, so these recent attacks on neighboring countries are an expansion rather than a relocation of activities. With links and the shared goals of Al Qaeda and ISIS, Boko Haram must be stopped before its violence spreads even further geographically and into cyberspace.

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