Explosive violence by Boko HaramUnderstanding the regional and transnational networks that facilitate IED use

Known perpetrators of IED incidents in the past five years: Boko Haram

Boko Haram, the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2015, is active in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Counter-terrorism efforts by these governments have to some extent curbed the group’s expansion. Previously allied with al-Qaeda, they swore allegiance to IS in 2015. Although officially followers of strict Wahhabi Salafism, the group’s supporters are said to be driven by several ideologies, mostly a range of extremist Sunni fundamentalist views. Since 2011, the group has carried out extensive attacks with IEDs, including car bombs and suicide attacks. As AOAV has previously reported, there was a 1,000% increase in civilians killed or injured by explosive weapons in Nigeria between 2011 and 2015, and there have been more than 7,200 civilian deaths and injuries from IEDs in the past five years. Boko Haram is the known perpetrator of explosions that killed more than 2,800 people during that period.  In addition, there have been almost 200 IED attacks in Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria within the past five years committed by an unknown perpetrator, and it is very likely that Boko Haram was involved in several of them.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002 in Maidiguri, in northern Nigeria’s Borno state, by Mohammad Yusuf, originally as an Islamist organisation. After clashes with local authorities in 2009, the group became significantly more radical, violent, and similar to the group the world knows today. In 2016, there have been disputes and confusion over who leads the organisation. Abubakar Shekau, who has headed the organisation since 2010, seems to have been replaced by IS, who announced on August 3, 2016 that Abu Musab al-Barnawi (allegedly the son of Muhammad Yusuf) had been installed as leader instead. Shekau, however, replied that he was still in charge of the group, and that Barnawi was an infidel who had been installed in a coup. On August 23, 2016 there were unconfirmed reports that Shekau had been killed in an attack by the Nigerian military, which Boko Haram later denied.

Boko Haram is reported to have received aid from both al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the past. There have also been reports of Boko Haram training with AQIM, although they were never believed to have had direct contact with al-Qaeda central command. As the appointment of Barnawi by IS suggests, there seems to be greater influence from IS central command in at least some factions of Boko Haram. Besides these links, there have been reports of support from high-ranking Nigerian military personnel and public officials, something which we will expand on later in this report.

Boko Haram has repeatedly mounted attacks on military facilities, such as the dual attacks on a military barracks in Borno state and on an Air Force Base in Maiduguri in December 2013. There is evidence of captured ordnance being used to devise IEDs, such as 60mm and 81mm mortar bombs and 105mm/155mm artillery shells, as well as French-made GR 66-EG anti-personnel cluster munitions. These have been linked to a number of deadly IED attacks including one that killed 9 people in the northern Kangeleri Mora District of Cameroon in October 2015, and as part of an attack that killed at least 86 people near Maiduguri in Nigeria in February 2016. It is believed the bombs were stolen from ammunition depots at Nigerian air bases, most notably in Kano and Kainji. Boko Haram has also acquired military precursors by such means as illicit trade on the central African black market and suspected collaboration with the Nigerian military, which we will return to later on in this report..

A study of Boko Haram’s use of IEDs in Nigeria between March 2015 and February 2016 highlights some important findings. First of all, Boko Haram has mainly used small and medium-sized IEDs – including IEDs contained in soda cans and gas cylinders. The group has used IEDs to neutralise armoured vehicles and attack checkpoints. They also appear increasingly to be using person-borne IEDs (PBIEDs). These are often delivered by women and children, making it difficult for the military or the surrounding community to detect the perpetrator. Like IS, Boko Haram has been known to use IEDs in order to hinder police and army operations by weakening their logistics.

This post is part of the report, “Understanding the regional and transnational networks that facilitate IED use”. To see the sections of the report please go here. This research was undertaken with assistance from the NATO Counter-IED Centre of Excellence and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.