Since 9/11 we’ve all known about Al Qaeda and, since at least the recent outrageous assault on a crowded Kenyan shopping mall, we’ve learned about the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorist group, but a Nigerian extremist organization best known as Boko Haram hasn’t made as many headlines.
But then this past weekend members of the group launched a vicious attack on a college in rural northeastern Nigeria, killing an estimated 50 students – most, if not all, were Muslims - who were shot as they slept in their dormitory. Most of the victims were between 18 and 22 years old.
The official name of the extremist group is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jijhad and in English that means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” And its popular name - Boko Haram - literally means “Western education is forbidden.”
College provost Molima Idi Mato told the Associated Press that security forces were still recovering the bodies and that about 1,000 students had fled the campus. A Nigerian military source reported that 42 bodies had been recovered.
Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, had ordered an operation against Boko Haram and declared a state of emergency for the northeastern section of the country back in May, but that didn’t deter the terrorist group. It launched two attacks on schools in June, with at least nine children killed in one and 13 students and teachers killed in the other.
Then, in July, Islamist militants attacked a school’s dormitories, killing at least 42. Most of the victims were students. Simply stated, to Boko Haram schools are a symbol of Western culture.
And besides ruthlessly killing ambitious young Nigerians seeking an education and setting fire to the college classrooms, Boko Haram is determined to overthrow Nigeria’s government and create an Islamic state in its place.
The weekend assault represents the huge security challenge faced by the government of Africa’s biggest oil producer and the continent’s most populous nation. Of its 160 million people, approximately half are Muslims and half Christians.
Because of the threat of terror, more than 30,000 Nigerians have sought refuge in neighboring Cameroon and Chad. Because of the uprising and the attendant military emergency, farmers have been forced from their fields and vendors from their markets.
Nigeria gained its independence from Britain on Oct. 1, 1960. If there is a celebration, it surely will be a somber one.