Boko Haram and Suicide Terror
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Before April 2014, few Americans had heard of Boko Haram, the insurgent group plaguing Nigeria’s north east. That changed after the group’s dramatic kidnapping of over 230 school girls from their dormitories. However, what few Americans realized was that Boko Haram was not a new phenomenon. In reality, the Nigerian based fundamentalist group has been plaguing Nigeria since 2009, and was responsible for over 900 deaths between 2009 and the beginning of 2013, a statistic that has only risen in the wake of recent high casualty attacks. What is most compelling about the group is their use of suicide terror as a key strategy in their campaign against the Nigerian state. It is tempting to see this characteristic as the hallmark of Islamic Jihad, and place Boko Haram within a larger Global Jihad narrative. However, the group’s decision regarding the use of suicide terror can more accurately be understood as a rational, natural outgrowth of the political and socio-economic experience in Nigeria. Robert Pape’s seminal work on the logic of suicide terror provides a useful theoretical framework in understanding the group’s choice of tactic. According to Pape, despite the tempting connection to be made between Islamic fundamentalism and suicide terror, “what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that terrorists consider to be their homeland” (p. 4).
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