Terrorism Profiles

Boko Haram

Alternative Names:

Boko Haram, Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyah, Islamic State’s West Africa Province, ISWAP, Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah Iid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad, People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad

Boko Haram is classified as a foreign terrorist organization by more than a dozen Western states. In March, 2015, Boko Haram declared loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)/Daesh, which controls vast swaths of territory across northern Iraq and Syria.


Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon


Boko Haram was founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, a Nigerian Muslim. Yusuf served as the group’s leader from 2002 until hi s death in 2009, which resulted from an encounter with Nigerian security forces during the Boko Haram uprising. He received instruction in Salafism, a fundamental movement within Sunni Islam.

Abubakar Shekau aka Darul Akeem wa Zamunda Tawheed is the current leader of Boko Haram. He served as deputy leader to Mohammed Yusuf until Yusuf’s death in 2009. Shekau speaks Hausa (the Chadic language), Arabic, and English.

Boko Haram’s organizational structure remains unclear, although it it widely presumed to consist of operational cells that are accountable to a leadership cadre.


Membership estimates range from the hundreds to a few thousand. The group’s operational cells are highly decentralized with many fighters being poor and uneducated youth.

Funding Sources:

Boko Haram receives the bulk of its funding from bank robberies and related criminal activities, including extortion and kidnapping for ransoms. These activities generate millions of dollars annually.

The group has also received limited funding from al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), although this has had negligible impact on Boko Haram’s overall funding. Boko Haram is also presumed to have received external funding from groups in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.

Security experts have noted that Boko Haram is less reliant on financial resources than other prominent terrorist organizations, as it runs a relatively low-cost operation. Many of the small arms and explosives it uses to carry out attacks tend to be weapons abandoned by Nigerian security forces, imported from abroad, or stolen from civilian and commercial activities. For instance, in November, 2014, Boko Haram raided a cement factory in Ashaka and stole large quantities of dynamite.


Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri, Nigeria in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, a Nigerian muslim and Islamic cleric.

Major Attacks:

From 2010 to 2012: Boko Haram carried out more than 300 attacks, which  killed 1,000 people. In 2014 the group was suspected of being responsible for more deaths than Daesh over the same period.

August, 2011: Boko Haram conducted a suicide bomb attack against the United Nations compound in Abuja, Nigeria, killing 23 people.

January, 2012: Wave of bomb blasts in Kano, Nigeria, killed more than 180 people in a single day.

March, 2013: Attacks on prisons in Gwoza and Adamawa, which freed roughly 270 Boko Haram members of associates.

September, 2013: Attack on a school in Mamudo, Nigeria, killed 65 students.

December, 2013: Attack on a Nigerian military base killed 20 Nigerian military personnel and destroyed military equipment, including two helicopters.

2014: Boko Haram staged 46 attacks in Chad and Cameroon, which killed 520 people.

April, 2014: Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students from the secular Government Secondary School in Chibok. Since 2010, Boko Haram has targeted schools, killing hundreds of students.

May, 2014: Boko Haram militants kills more than 300 people in the town of Gamboru Ngala.

May, 2014: Twin bomb attacks in Joz kill at least 118 people.

August, 2014: Boko Haram kidnaps at least 97 men and boys, kill 28 people, and injures 27 others in a raid on villages in Borno state.

August, 2014: Boko Haram seizes the town of Gwoza in Borno state, killing 100.

November, 2014: Boko Haram attacked Koton Karfe prison in central Kogi state, freeing 144 inmates.

January, 2015: Boko Haram assaulted the town of Baga, which resulted in the deaths of roughly 100 people, according to official reports, and the displacement of up to 2000 “unaccounted” residents from Baga. The assault destroyed 16 surrounding towns and displaced an additional 35,000 people.

July, 2015: Boko Haram carried out a suicide bomb attack in the university town of Zaria, which killed at least 25 people.

February 1, 2016: Suspected Boko Haram militants carried out a series of attacks on villages in North-Eastern Nigeria. The group opened fire on civilians, firebombed residences and a large number of children were killed in the attack. (86 killed, unknown wounded)

Ideological Roots:

Boko Haram is a Salafist militant organization that traces its ideology to the Salafi movement, which is a movement within Sunni Islam. The group takes a fundamental approach to Islam, emulating the Prophet Muhammad. Boko Haram rejects religious innovation, supports the implementation of Sharia Islamic law, and espouses offensive jihad against those that the group deems to be enemies of Islam.

The group also rejects science, Western-style education, and any other thoughts or religions that may be contrary to the group’s radical interpretation of the Islamic faith, on the basis that it lures people away from following the Islamic teaching.

Many of the group’s grievances are motivated by failures of local governance, abuses by state security forces, sectarian tension between Christians and Muslims, and countrywide socio-economic disparity.


Boko Haram’s primary objective is to overthrow the Nigerian government and implement Sharia law in order to create a political system resembling Taliban rule in Afghanistan prior to 2001. The group specifically desires to institute an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria


Boko Haram’s tactics are highly diversified, consisting of firearm and IED attacks, kidnapping, assassination, hostage taking, and the use of suicide bombers. It engages in guerrilla warfare across the north of Nigeria and threatens to destabilize parts of Niger and Cameroon.

The group primarily targets political and religious leaders that it views as opponents to its beliefs, although it also undertakes more indiscriminate attacks against civilian soft targets such as market places, universities, theatres, and cafes.

As the group has gained in size and strength, it has expanded its sphere of operations from its base in Nigeria to neighbouring states. Boko Haram’s fluid movement across borders in the region has enabled the terrorist group to evade pressure from state military forces and conduct limited operations in Cameroon and Niger.

Boko Haram works closely with other terrorist organizations. In particular, the group’s coordinated training efforts with sophisticated terror groups such as Daesh and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have enabled Boko Haram to rapidly develop tactics involving explosives and bombs.

Recent Articles

Profile Last Updated: 12/4/2015

View References

  1. “Boko Haram.” Counter Extremism Project. Last modified 2015. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://www.counterextremism.com/sites/default/files/threat_pdf/Boko%20Haram-10272015.pdf
  2. “Chapter 6. Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” U.S Department of State. Last modified 2013. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2013/224829.htm
  3. “Currently Listed Entities.” Public Safety Canada. Last modified 2015. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2051
  4. “Mapping Militants.” Stanford University. Last modified 2015. Accessed December 1, 2015. http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/maps/view/islamic-state

Continue Researching Terrorism Profiles

Back to Terrorism Profiles