Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Boko Haram: Kidnap-For-Ransom Strategy

     The recent uproar over the kidnapping of teenaged Nigerian school girls has garnered global furor.  It was suspected that the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram was responsible and only recently did they claim responsibility for the kidnapping.  As alarming and dire as this current situation is, kidnapping operations - especially the kidnapping of women - are Boko Haram’s MO.

     According to the State Department's 2013 Terrorism Report, organizations like Boko Haram specialize in kidnapping-for-ransom operations, which serve as a primary source of funding for their terrorist activities.  The State Department report said, “the affiliates have increased their financial independence through kidnapping for ransom operations and other criminal activities such as extortion and credit card fraud.”  Boko Haram has a loose affiliation with al-Qaeda, sharing their radical Islamic ideology and has even received funding from al-Qaeda’s African affiliate, al-Qeada in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  In fact, AQIM has orchestrated this kidnapping-for-ransom strategy across Africa from Mali to Niger despite French and African Union intervention. 

     Boko Haram’s violent anti-western ideology ("Boko Haram" literally translates to "western education is sinful") has spurred widespread violence including attacks on Christian churches.  The New York Times reported that “more than 50 teenage boys were slaughtered — some burned alive — at a government school” earlier this year.  The Times went on to say that these attacks were soon forgotten by the Nigerian government and “barely noticed outside” the country.  Such negligence has contributed to an “antigovernment protest movement” and embarrassment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime. 

     Furthermore, Nigeria’s governance vacuum of the past twenty years has allowed Boko Haram to flourish and branch out from its passive origins to a radically militant jihadist network bent on “soak[ing] the ground of Nigeria with Christian blood and so-called Muslims contradicting Islam.”  According to a leading Nigerian expert on Boko Haram, the group, “was founded on ideology, but poor governance was the catalyst for it to spread.  If there had been proper governance and a functioning state,” the group’s originator “would have found it very difficult to succeed.”

     With typical kidnap-for-ransom operations, there is evidence that suggests Boko Haram rarely executes their captors.  Given their radical jihadist ideology, this is obviously subject to change.  However, as their leader, Abubakar Shekau, stated in his video address claiming responsibility for the most recent kidnapping, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market.”  Such a statement indicates Shekau’s lack of incentive to execute prisoners as they are a commodity of sorts.  These young girls who have been captured represent future funding sources for the organization hence, they serve no useful purpose to Shekau or his group dead.  While this is positive news, recovering these girls could pose as an exercise in futility once they enter into the international human trafficking trade.
     Even though the United States has offered assistance to the Nigerian government in the form of intelligence, this resource may not be enough.  A more productive method to encourage rapid change is to address the issue of Nigeria's poor governance.  This, however, will require adequate funding for the mobilization of government and non-government organizations, as well as putting volunteers on the ground.  United Nations forces in concert with African Union (AMISOM) forces have had some minor success recently in the horn of Africa combating the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.  Similar operations and training may greatly assist the domestic Nigerian forces.  UN peacekeeping efforts and troop deployments to problem areas such as educational institutions may help deter future attacks by militants.  Additionally, stronger penalties and greater global initiatives against human trafficking operations could also deter similar groups from profiting from such activity.

      As heinous as the recent Boko Haram kidnappings are, they could have (and probably should have) been prevented given the group’s history.  Public outcry and protests have focused greater attention on this alarming predicament.  A related issue that also needs to be addressed is the western spread of jihad, which has reached western Africa.  If organizations such as Boko Haram are able to have continued successes in western African nations, their splinter groups will grow and create a wider channel of terrorism from Pakistan (core al-Qaeda’s location) to western Africa and possibly further.

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