What is Boko Haram?

What you need to know about the group that kidnapped 276 school girls in Nigeria

The mass abduction of almost 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram has captured the attention of the nation, taken social media by storm and thrown the terror group directly into the forefront of the public's consciousness. But what is Boko Haram, and why is the group only making headlines now?

What is Boko Haram?

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group based in the northeast of Nigeria, north Cameroon and Niger.

The group's official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic translates as: "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad".

Founded in 2001 by Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden" in the local Hausa language, began their insurgency in 2009 in Nigeria’s Borno state.

Now led by Abubakar Shekau after Yusuf was killed in 2009, the group is fighting to overthrow the government in order to create an Islamic state and promotes a version of Islam which makes it “haram” for Muslims to partake in political or social activity associated with Western society.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (AFP) Since its insurgency began, Boko Haram has carried out increasingly deadly attacks on schools, pupils and teachers in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria.

What is the current situation?

On 14 April, 276 girls aged between 16 and 18 were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in rural Chibok, in the north-eastern Borno state. Boko Haram later claimed responsibility for the abductions in a video, where Shekau threatened to sell the girls as slaves and marry them off because God had "instructed" him to sell them. "They are his properties," he said, "and I will carry out his instructions.”

A further eight school girls were abducted from a Nigerian village by the group this week. Many fear some of the girls have already been trafficked into neighbouring neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.

Is this the first time such an attack has taken place?

No. Boko Haram has stepped up its campaign against Western education in recent years and most recently attacked a boarding school in Yobe, where gunman killed 59 pupils in February. In September 2013, the group killed 44 male students and teachers during a night-time raid at an agricultural college in the state.

Why is Boko Haram’s insurgency suddenly attracting so much attention?

Social media appears to be a driving force behind the world-wide attention focused on this particular attack, with many media-friendly celebrities using the hashtag #bring back our girls on Twitter to raise awareness. Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway recently used the hashtag to lead a demonstration in America calling for their safe return, while Angelina Jolie used the premiere of her latest film to condemn the abduction as "an unthinkable cruelty".

What is the #bring back our girls hashtag and how did it start?

The ‘bring back our girls’ hashtag was first used by Nigerian lawyer in Abuja, Ibrahim M Abdullahi, who tweeted the call during a speech by the vice-president of the World Bank for Africa. The hashtag was quickly adopted by desperate mothers of the missing girls who would write it on placards during protests, before high profile celebrities, including Michelle Obama posted images holding cards reading #bringbackourgirls.

How has it made an impact? 

The hashtag has been tweeted more than one million times since it began trending two weeks ago. It appears to be keeping the abduction in the public eye, but its effectiveness has become a point of debate. Many have argued simply tweeting a hashtag will not assist the search efforts for the missing girls, while others have accused famous figures of exploiting the campaign and using it to generate self-publicity.

Why are world leaders becoming involved?

World leaders have appeared reluctant to intervene in Boko Haram's activities despite the many atrocities the group has claimed responsibility for in the past.

But this well-publicised attack has seen the international community step forward and very publicly offer their assistance in the search.

The kidnapping has ignited a viral social media campaign that has brought renewed attention to Boko Haram's campaign of violence, and protests around the world The kidnapping has ignited a viral social media campaign that has brought renewed attention to Boko Haram's campaign of violence, and protests around the world The US has agreed to send a team of up to 10 military personnel comprising experts in logistics, communications and intelligence planning, to join State Department and Justice Department officers and British SAS liaison officers are understood to be already in Abuja, where they are looking at ways to assist rescue efforts.

But some have argued rescuing the children should be the responsibility of Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan, who has been widely-criticised for failing to take the girls’ predicament seriously until domestic and international pressure forced him to do so some two weeks after the 14 April incident.

Others have criticised countries for not sending more support. Parents of the missing school girls have pleaded with world leaders to send more help in order to locate their missing children. One mother, Shettima Haruma, said parents need "the government to get American people to come and help us".

"We beg Nigerians, those in another country like America or (Britain) ... it's three weeks, nearly one month ... (and we haven't) seen any letters from our daughters," Ms Haruma told Sky News.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam