Stewart Scott

On Nov. 25, Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group from northern Nigeria, attacked a church in Jaji, Kaduna state, using two suicide bombers during the church's weekly religious service. The first bomb detonated in a vehicle driven into the church, and the second detonated approximately 10 minutes later, when a crowd of first responders gathered at the scene. About 30 people were killed in the attacks; the second blast caused the majority of the deaths. The incident was particularly symbolic because Jaji is the home of Nigeria's Armed Forces Command and Staff College, and many of the churchgoers were senior military officers.

In the wake of the Jaji attacks, media reports quoted human rights groups saying that Boko Haram has killed more people in 2012 than ever before. The group has killed roughly 770 people this year, leading many to conclude that Boko Haram has become more dangerous.

However, it is important to look beyond the sheer number of fatalities when drawing such conclusions about a group like Boko Haram. Indeed, a less cursory look at the group reveals that while 2012 has been a particularly deadly year, the Nigerian government has curtailed the group's capabilities. In terms of operational planning, the group has been limited to simple attacks against soft targets in or near its core territory. In other words, Boko Haram remains deadly, but it is actually less capable than it used to be, relegating the group to a limited, regional threat unless this dynamic is somehow altered. 

Boko Haram's Rise

Boko Haram, Hausa for "Western Education is Sinful," was established in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state. It has since spread to several other northern and central Nigerian states. Its official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, Arabic for "Group Committed to Propagating the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad." While Boko Haram is a relatively new phenomenon, Nigeria has struggled with militant Islamism for decades. For example, the Maitatsine sect, led by Mohammed Marwa, fomented violence in the early 1980s in the very same cities that Boko Haram is presently active.


Stewart Scott

Stewart Scott is a security analyst for Stratfor.