Boko Haram Massacres Hundreds of Civilians
Boko Haram was responsible for the brutal deaths of more than 400 people in and around Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria in February and early March 2014. Among its victims were children watching a soccer match and dozens of male students at a public college in Yobe State, many of whom were burned or shot to death. The group was also blamed for a rush-hour bomb set off in April at a bus station in Nyanya, a city on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja, that killed more than 70 people.
In April, the group kidnapped about 280 girls from a school in the northeast with the intention of making the girls sex slaves. The mass kidnapping—and the government's slow response and inept attempts to rescue them—sparked international outrage and anti-government protests in Nigeria. A social media campaign sparked widespread news coverage of the kidnappings and put pressure on Jonathan to take action against Boko Haram.
In a videotaped message released in early May, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, said the group planned to sell the abducted girls and threatened to "give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of 9. We would marry them out at the age of 12." He also reiterated the group's core belief that Western education is a sin.
The U.S. sent a team from the State Department, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon, 80 troops, and manned and unmanned surveillance drones to Nigeria in May to help to locate the girls. Another 68 girls were kidnapped in June in Borno state; 63 of the girls escaped weeks later.
While the world was focused on the search for the girls, violence attributed to Boko Haram continued. About 100 people were killed in a suicide attack in Jos and dozens more died in a series of attacks on villages in May. The violence continued into the summer, with the military stepping up its attacks on the group. In late June, a bomb attributed to Boko Haram killed about two dozen people in Abuja, the capital. The attack on the city, which is located in central Nigeria, revealed that the group is extending its reach outside its stronghold in the north. About 500 soldiers escaped to neighboring Cameroon in late August after coming under attack by Boko Haram. By early September, the group had captured Gwoza, Gamboru Ngala, Banki, and Bama, towns all located in Borno state near the border with Cameroon. Boko Haram also declared parts of Borno a caliphate. The advances sparked fears that Boko Haram could move in on Maiduguri, the capital of Borno.
In early November, the government announced it had begun to negotiate a cease-fire agreement with Boko Haram, which included the release of the kidnapped girls. Abubakar Shekau, the group's leader, however, denied the claim, and said the girls had converted to Islam and had been "married off."
The group continued to seize cities in the northeast and by early December, had taken control of many cities that surround Maiduguri. It also launched several suicide attacks in Maiduguri and other cities, which killed several hundred people. In the absence of effective government troops, civilian militias began to pop up to fight Boko Haram.
In January 2015, Boko Haram took over Baga, the only major town in Borno state to resist being taken over by the group. News reports said the militants burned the city to the ground and massacred hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens, making it one of the most deadly assaults by Boko Haram. Goodluck Jonathan was widely cricized for not condemning the attack, and his silence may be met with dissent from voters in February's presidential elections. About 8,000 troops from Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin were dispatched to Nigeria to battle the terrorists.
Nigeria's election commission postponed for six weeks presidential elections scheduled for Feb. 14 after the military said it could not protect voters in the northeast from Boko Haram. Some questioned if the decision was influenced by President Jonathan, whose victory was by no means guaranteed. Indeed, he faced a strong challenge from Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader who was behind a 1983 coup.