Paying for terrorism: Where does Boko Haram gets its money from?

The Islamist terror group’s recent attacks in Nigeria are notable for the expensive military hardware on display. Terrence McCoy reports on the sources of this money, from wealthy Middle Eastern backers to the black market

If there was an exact moment that the international community understood the breadth of Boko Haram’s evil, it came last month, when the group’s leader grinned and announced that he would sell more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls in his “market of selling human beings”.

Behind Abubakar Shekau, a man who rose to the top of Boko Haram through unmatched brutality and religious fanaticism, loomed several armoured vehicles. Local experts said the video was likely to have been filmed in the remote Sambisa forest in north-eastern Nigeria. The juxtaposition between rural land and advanced  machinery made a jarring contrast.

Despite the poverty of northern Nigeria – where 70 per cent of people live on less than 60p a day – the Boko Haram terrorist group has at its disposal a seemingly limitless amount of heavy weaponry, vehicles, bombs and ammunition that it uses to kill with unfathomable wantonness. The Islamic militants, masquerading as members of the military, raided three villages in north-eastern Nigeria this week and killed 400 villagers “from house to house” using “sophisticated weapons”, one local leader told Bloomberg.

Dozens more Boko Haram members arrived at another village, Bargari, disguised as preachers and assembled all those living in the village, ostensibly to teach Islam. Once they had gathered, another “large number of terrorists” arrived and “opened fire on the congregation”, one resident told Nigeria’s Daily Post. “The gunmen numbering 20 ambushed the village with four Toyota Hilux vehicles, AK-47 rifles, improvised explosive devices, and petrol bombs,” the paper said.

 

Saleh Mohammed, a member of Civilian JTF – one of a number of vigilante groups that have sprung up to fight the militants – told Reuters: “Boko Haram wreaked havoc in the villages. They burned houses and killed people mercilessly after tricking the residents.”

The expensive equipment on prominent display soon prompted questions about who was funding Boko Haram’s campaign of slaughter.

According to a survey of academic, governmental and journalistic accounts, Boko Haram funds its escalating acts of terror through black market dealings, local and international benefactors, and links to al-Qa’ida and other well-funded groups in the Middle East.

Analysts say its fundraising apparatus is intricate and opaque. “The actual source of the funding is as elusive as the militants themselves,” Heather Murdock wrote for Voice of America.

The story of Boko Haram’s fundraising began after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The group’s original leader, a charismatic cleric named Mohammed Yusuf, who was later killed, founded the group in 2002 pushing an alternative to Western education, which he claimed undermined Nigeria’s development. (The group’s Hausa name translates as “Western education is sin”.)

Teachers in Kaduna protest against the abduction of schoolgirls Teachers in Kaduna protest against the abduction of schoolgirls (EPA/STR)
Around that time, Osama bin Laden sent an aide to Nigeria with about £1.8m in local currency to dispense among groups that shared al-Qa’ida’s mission to impose Islamic rule. One of the “major beneficiaries”, the International Crisis Group said, was Boko Haram.

EJ Hogendoorn, the International Crisis Group’s deputy programme director for Africa and an author of the report, told The Daily Beast: “What I can tell you from talking to lots of conservative Muslims in Nigeria is that there was a lot of money coming into northern Nigeria. There are many sources of that money. One of those sources was from al-Qa’ida.”

The connection between Boko Haram and al-Qa’ida – and its money – perhaps deepened when Yusuf fled to Saudi Arabia to escape one of Nigeria’s first crackdowns on the terrorist group. It remains unclear what happened while he was in Saudi Arabia, or who he met, but Boko Haram leaders have later said that much of their funding comes from al-Qa’ida. A Boko Haram spokesman said in 2011: “Al-Qa’ida are our elder brothers. We enjoy financial and technical support from them. Anything we want from them we ask them.”

But even such alleged financial connections with al-Qa’ida cannot explain Boko Haram’s money. The group reportedly also gets cash from Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and local al-Qa’ida affiliates.

Then there’s the black market money. Beyond a hatred of Western education, economic motives may have also driven Boko Haram’s recent abduction of the schoolgirls. A robust and terrifying slave market exists in Nigeria and neighbouring countries.

Imam Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram is wanted by the Nigerian military, with a reward for information that could lead to his capture Imam Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram is wanted by the Nigerian military, with a reward for information that could lead to his capture (Getty Images)
The Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, the US military academy, said: “Kidnapping has become one of [Boko Haram’s] primary funding sources, a way to extract concessions from the Nigerian state and other governments, and a threat to foreigners and Nigerian government officials.”

Experts now estimate that kidnapping is worth “millions of dollars in ransom money” to the militants.

What experts agree on is that one of the best ways to stall Boko Haram is to cut off its funding. But how to do that remains unclear. The group is an entrenched part of life in northern Nigeria, possessing control and influence, and even collecting taxes.

Next week, Foreign Secretary William Hague will host a meeting of African and Western officials in London aimed at stepping up efforts to defeat the militants. Its effectiveness may hinge on the West’s ability to cut off the group’s funding.

© Washington Post

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick