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Violent Extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa: Lessons From the Rise of Boko Haram

On 26 July 2009, Boko Haram launched its first series of attacks on several police stations across northern Nigeria, culminating in a four-day standoff with security forces that ended with the death of hundreds of its members including founder and first leader, Muhammed Yusuf. As surviving members went underground to plan a deadly insurgency, Nigerian authorities expressed confidence that the group had been defeated. The following summer, Boko Haram returned under new leadership with an official name and a fresh mode of operation that would prove to be far more sophisticated and lethal than the original.

Over the past 12 years, Boko Haram has grown into one of the most influential and dominant terrorist groups in the world. Though the group has gained notoriety for its violence and mass kidnappings in Nigeria’s North East, Boko Haram is today a transnational threat that has sustained an insurgency despite both regional and international military counterterrorism efforts. Around the Lake Chad Basin, including in Niger, Cameroon and Chad, the militants of Boko Haram stage daily attacks and raids. This is further complicating efforts to manage other conflicts across the Sahel, creating a complex jihadist problem encasing either side of West Africa.

The threat from Boko Haram became more acute following its splintering into three distinct factions between 2012 and 2016, and the past three years have proved the deadliest ever for security forces battling the group. While international actors have long been driven by the view that Boko Haram and its constituent factions would be weakened by the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS), this has not come to pass and efforts to defeat the group have fallen short. In fact, the ISIS-allied faction of Boko Haram became stronger after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2019.

Read the report at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

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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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