Boko Haram’s attacks are occurring at their greatest frequency since the sect emerged from hiding in 2010. The sophistication of its tactics, use of the Internet, and its recent attack on the U.N. headquarters in Abuja all point to a dangerously evolving organization.
Debate exists regarding Boko Haram. Some believe it is little more than a grassroots insurrection with no defined leader or structure. Others believe that core Boko Haram, as it is understood, is a very small group of individuals who simply consider themselves to be the followers of their slain leader Mohammed Yusuf. Despite our lack of understanding of Boko Haram, the movement appears to have significant sympathy among many Nigerian Muslims. Coupled with the grievances that plague the north, the environment is ripe for recruitment.
Recent evidence alludes to the sect’s potential desire to join the ranks of international jihadist organizations. American, Nigerian, other African, and European officials have all expressed concern over the sect’s communication with AQIM and al Shabaab. An alliance, or at the very least cooperation between the groups, can prove costly for the stability of Africa, the Sahel, and American interests. Perhaps most striking is how little is known about Boko Haram. The sect remained relatively off the radar screen of the U.S. Intelligence Community until the U.N. headquarters attack, its first non-Nigerian, international target. Similar attacks have signaled the beginning of new phases for other extremist groups such as AQIM in the past.
The U.S. Intelligence Community has underestimated the threat potential of terrorist organizations in the recent past, most notably AQAP in Yemen and TTP, the Pakistani Taliban. Both of these groups were believed to be focusing on regional targets in the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia. The attempted bombing of a U.S. passenger jet overDetroit on Christmas Day 2009 by a Nigerian Muslim trained by AQAP, and the attempted bombing of New York’s Times Square by a Pakistani American trained by TTP left many in the Intelligence Community caught off guard. This report seeks to avoid another intelligence lapse by calling attention to the potential threat Boko Haram can pose to U.S. interests abroad and in the homeland. At this time, the risk of an attack by Boko Haram on the U.S. Homeland may be low, but it is advisable to take the threat seriously and prepare accordingly.