Boko Haram, which refers to itself as “Jama‘atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Da‘awati wal-Jihad” (JASDJ; Group of the Sunni People for the Calling and Jihad) and “Nigerian Taliban”—other translations and variants are used—is a Nigeria-based group that seeks to overthrow the current Nigerian Government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law. It is popularly known in Nigerian and Western media as “Boko Haram,” which means “Western education is forbidden” (the word boko is a holdover from the colonial English word for book). The group, which has existed in various forms since the late 1990s, suffered setbacks in July 2009 when clashes with Nigerian Government forces led to the deaths of hundreds of its members, including former leader Muhammad Yusuf.
In July 2010, Boko Haram’s former second-in-command, Abubakar Shekau, appeared in a video claiming leadership of the group and threatening attacks on Western influences in Nigeria. Later that month, Shekau issued a second statement expressing solidarity with al-Qa‘ida and threatening the United States. Under Shekau’s leadership, the group has continued to demonstrate growing operational capabilities, with an increasing use of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against soft targets. The group set off its first vehicle-borne IED in June 2011. On 26 August 2011, Boko Haram conducted its first attack against a Western interest—a vehicle-bomb attack on UN headquarters in Abuja—killing at least 23 people and injuring more than 80. A purported Boko Haram spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and promised future targeting of US and Nigerian Government interests.
Since late 2011, the group has conducted multiple attacks per week against a wide range of targets, including Christians, Nigerian security and police forces, the media, schools, and politicians. Since late 2012, Boko Haram and its splinter group Ansaru have claimed responsibility for three kidnappings of Westerners, raising their international profile and emphasizing the growing threat they pose to Western and regional interests. As of July 2013 Ansaru was holding a French hostage. Also in 2013, Boko Haram expanded its activity in neighboring countries and continues to clash with Nigerian military forces trying to oust it from northeastern Nigeria.