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Boko Haram: The Emerging Jihadist Threat in West Africa

Read the full report here: Boko Haram: The Emerging Jihadist Threat in West Africa (PDF).

Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group that seeks to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria that will strictly adhere to its interpretation of Islamic law, has raised international concern over its increasingly violent activities and its potential links to terrorist organizations.

The group, also known by its Arabic name Jama'at Ahl al-Sunnah lil-Da'wah w'al-Jihaad (the Group of the people of the Sunnah for Propagating Islam and Jihad) garnered international attention in August 2011 after claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing at the United Nations building in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in which at least 25 were killed and more than 110 were wounded. Congress held its first hearing on the potential threats posed by the group in November 2011.

Central to Boko Haram's ideology is the notion that many aspects of Western life—including democracy, the consumption of alcohol, and women's and gay rights—are antithetical to Islamic civilization. Although the group's name is widely translated as "Western education is forbidden/sinful," Boko Haram's leaders insist that the name refers not just to Western education but also to Western civilization in its entirety.

In its early years, the group was popularly known as the "Nigerian Taliban" due to its shared anti-Western ideology and its willingness to use violence in an effort to impose a strict form of Shariah law. Its public statements declaring solidarity with Al Qaeda and its ideology further attest to its anti-Western views.

While Boko Haram has not yet operated outside of Nigeria, its attack on the United Nations building demonstrates an apparent willingness to align itself with the goals and tactics of established global terrorist organizations. Boko Haram has allegedly established connections to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda's North African branch, and Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic militant group that seeks to create an Islamic state in Somalia.

The group's leadership has also expressed intent to target U.S. interests in particular, citing U.S. support for Israel and what the group describes as American "oppression and aggression against Muslim nations."

Recognizing the potential danger that Boko Haram poses to its citizens, U.S. officials have issued several warnings, increasing in specificity since the United Nations bombing, to American travelers and others with interests in Nigeria.

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