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Threat Actor Profile - Boko Haram

AK Rockefeller | Wikimedia Commons

Threat Actor: Group of the People of Sunnah for Dawah and Jihad (official title); AKA "Boko Haram"

Date of Activity: 2002 - Present

Area of Operations: Primarily Northern Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Mali

Overview: The expressed purpose of Boko Haram is to establish a “purified” Islamic state in Africa, largely by overthrowing the Nigerian government, which they claim has been corrupted by Apostates who do not fit their extreme interpretation of Sharia Law.

Although the group has existed as low-level insurgents since 2002, they were forced underground in 2009 by Nigerian government crackdowns. The group garnered worldwide infamy in 2014 after its militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Borno State, Nigeria.

Most of Boko Haram’s funding and resources come from black-market sources, connections to other terror networks, or by extorting civilians. The black-market oil trade is of particular importance to their operations. Because of their remote areas of operation, Boko Haram relies on steady sources of food and fuel to support their logistics.

Boko Haram employs a wide variety of recruitment methods. They exploit numerous inequalities and insecurities among the poorer people of Nigeria. Nigeria has tremendous wealth inequality with many citizens living on less than one U.S. dollar a day. Boko Haram takes advantage of people’s desperation, seeing the potential earnings from insurgency worth the risk.

As a religious extremist organization with ties to the Islamic State, the organization takes advantage of the establishment of Sharia Law administrations in much of northern Nigeria. This also stems from lingering resentment against western colonialism. Founder Mohammed Yusuf constructed an anti-imperialist narrative that he sought to restore an ancient Islamic kingdom, the Kanem-Bornu Empire, that had been bisected by arbitrary colonial boundaries. This myth of restoring former glories is easier to enforce among populations where education is poor, just like northern Nigeria.

Those who are illiterate or otherwise lack education are much more prone to indoctrination, which Boko Haram uses to keep growing its ranks. Recently, their communications capabilities have expanded to a concerning level.

The BBC reported that videos of the U.N. suicide bomber, identified as Mohammed Abul Barra, surfaced. The two videos, each 25 minutes long, were created to establish him as a martyr, stating to his family why it is his duty to commit this act, and praising Osama Bin Laden.

The group is also increasingly using Jihadist internet forums to spread its message and to keep in touch with other terrorist groups.

For over twenty years, Boko Haram has been part of a much larger threat of Islamic extremism in the Sahel region of Africa. They have engaged in terror attacks, assassinations, trafficking, and other despicable acts in the name of their extreme interpretation of Islam.


  • Terrorism - Boko Haram has used terrorism as a means of destabilizing Nigeria and imposing its extremist ideology on the country. The group's attacks have caused widespread fear and have displaced millions of people in Nigeria and neighboring countries.

  • Human Trafficking - Boko Haram has been involved in human trafficking in several ways, including forced recruitment, sex trafficking, child soldiers, and smuggling.

  • Guerilla Warfare - Boko Haram has carried out numerous attacks on highways and other transportation routes, often targeting buses and other vehicles. The group has also attacked convoys of security forces and aid workers, using ambush tactics.

  • Black Market - Boko Haram has been involved in various forms of black market activities to fund its insurgency and maintain its operations. Some of the ways Boko Haram has used the black market include arms smuggling, drug trafficking, extortion, illegal taxation, and kidnapping for ransom.

  • Political Assassinations - Boko Haram has assassinated government officials, religious leaders, and traditional rulers in Nigeria, particularly in the northern region of the country. The group has also targeted police and military personnel, often attacking police stations and military bases.

  • Collaboration with other Threat Actors - Boko Haram's collaborations with other threat actors have enabled the group to expand its operations, obtain weapons and funding, and carry out attacks in Nigeria and neighboring countries.

Recent Activities:

  • 2018 - 110 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Dapchi, Yobe State. Most were released after the Nigerian Government paid the ransom.

  • 2019 - Jihadists raid a village near the Nigerian Army Chief of Staff’s home, resulting in 6 deaths, 14 injuries, and several vehicles captured.

  • 2022 - Militants attack ISWAP bases in Yuwe, capturing equipment including 4 Toyota trucks mounted with heavy machine guns.

  • 2023 - Insurgents attack farmlands in Borno State, kidnapping several farmers and demanding millions in ransom.

Historic Activities:

  • 2009- First insurgency against the Nigerian government.

  • 2010- Bauchi Prison break- insurgents released over 700 prisoners following the death of former leader Mohammed Yusuf.

  • 2011- Vehicle-bomb attack on UN headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.

  • 2014- 276 schoolgirls kidnapped in Borno State, Nigeria, garnering worldwide condemnation.

Key Individuals:

  • Bakura Sa’alaba (leader from 2021 to 2022)

  • Bakura Doro (alleged current leader)

  • Mamman Nur (alleged third-in-command, led 2011 UN bombing)

Allied Groups:

  • Ansaru

  • ISIL

  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

  • Ansar Dine


  • Al Mulathameen

Analytical Assessment:

The Sahel region’s instability, lack of consistent governance, and massive inequality have created the perfect environment for extremists to fill the power vacuum. In the case of northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has been successful in carving its own niche, exploiting corruption and religious fanaticism to establish a brutal regime that has led to thousands of deaths and many more displacements. Their kidnapping of schoolchildren is especially disturbing, due to the treatment women suffer under many other Islamic extremist regimes.

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