National Security & Defense

The New Islamic State: Boko Haram

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a propaganda video
The brutal jihadists now control 20,000 square kilometers, and they’re intent on building a caliphate.

Twitter hashtags cannot defeat terrorists.

Last April, hundreds of Nigerian school girls were kidnapped. The concerted international response? #BringBackOurGirls and an array of sad-faced celebrity photos, most famously that of a pouty Michelle Obama. But then the world forgot. And in central-west Africa, a particularly despicable terrorist group, Boko Haram, has taken advantage of the world’s short attention span.

The product of joined-up evils, Boko Haram blends Salafi-Jihadism with Mad Max–style criminality. Though less famous than the Islamic State, Boko Haram shows a penchant for brutality that equals anything seen in Iraq and Syria. Boko Haram — whose name is loosely translated as “Western education is forbidden” — believes, like many jihadists today, that freedom is a mortal sin against God. To emphasize this belief, Boko Haram soldiers like to lock young students in burning buildings, and then they slit the throats of those who escape.

In 2015, the group has gone into overdrive. This month, it has annihilated entire settlements, invaded Cameroon to kidnap children, and launched multiple suicide-bomb attacks. Thousands are dead, and its legion of child sex slaves (girls) and child soldiers (boys) is growing. And the world remains silent.

Nevertheless, closing our eyes won’t stop the gathering storm. For a start, Boko Haram now controls some 20,000 square kilometers of territory in northern and northeastern Nigeria, which gives it a base from which to export terror in all directions. Theologically fanatic, the group enjoys massacring Christians, and it is equally intent on continuing to acquire territory and slaves, as evidenced by its increasingly regular raids across international borders into Cameroon and Niger.

This isn’t surprising. As with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, Boko Haram’s ideology motivates relentless aggression. This isn’t just a problem for Africa. After all, Boko Haram receives guidance, training, and operational support from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Operating in nearby Mali and Niger, AQIM has kidnapped many Westerners. Some are released on receipt of ransoms, while others are executed for propaganda purposes. More concerning still: Some reports suggest that AQIM has experimented with chemical or biological weapons. As Boko Haram expands its territory and ambition, it’s likely to follow in AQIM’s footsteps and attack Western interests. Indeed, the group has already threatened Western missionaries in northern Nigeria and energy interests in the country’s south. Moreover, led by the psychopath Abubakr Shekau, Boko Haram is inherently irrational. But this emerging threat to the West isn’t just about power-crazed ideology; it’s about hard cash: Transnational attacks are a proven way to attract jihadist fundraisers in Qatar and elsewhere.

As Boko Haram presents an ever-greater threat to the stability of multiple governments, and as it slaughters more and more innocents, our strategic and moral impetus for action is clear. Given the undercurrent of sectarianism in regional politics, the crisis is becoming more urgent by the day. Unless contained, Boko Haram could spark a new genocide.

This doesn’t mean we should invade. But we can make a difference. First, as I argued last year, we should conduct a vigorous drone campaign to push Boko Haram off balance. We should also better support afflicted governments with intelligence to neutralize Boko Haram officers and their political and financial enablers. Along with France, we should engage a multinational effort to reform and strengthen Nigeria’s ailing military, which is currently on the verge of collapse.

Most crucially of all, we must open our eyes. At present, too many seek to absolve themselves of responsibility by sharing self-congratulatory hashtags and mutual delusion. Meanwhile the cancer spreads. Today, a contiguous terrorist threat that reaches from central Africa to southern Europe (see here) is rising. Somber-seeming self-portraits will do nothing to restrain this crisis.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and a contributor to The McLaughlin Group. He holds the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute, is based in Washington, D.C., and tweets @TomRtweets.

Tom Rogan — Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at

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