The recent incidents of terrorist attacks at the college in north eastern Nigeria and the Westgate Mall in Kenya by the militant islamist group commonly known as ‘Boko Haram’ have shocked millions of people around the world. Terrorism has always been a part of our modern societies, those of a militant nature using violence as an excuse to further their beliefs have become more prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century and have continued to this day. Boko Haram have featured significantly in Africa, founded in 2001/2 the organisation is actually called Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, literally translated means People committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and Jihad. Boko Haram is a phrase meaning western education is sinful or forbidden in the Hausa language, one of the most prominent languages spoken in Africa.
This terrorist grouping have wanted to establish sharia law within the country, believing that western democracy and other religions are an abomination. They have been responsible for numerous attacks on Christians, villages, shrines and now a busy, metropolitan shopping mall and a college dormitory. Measured on our beliefs on morality, it would appears that this grouping has none and has stooped low, killing children and sleeping students.
I have to point out that the information I have used in this article is completely open source and there have been conflicting reporting. I have tried to organise it how I see it and therefore it is pure assessment with no solid evidence. They don’t let me see the good stuff anymore!
There has been recent rumours that the leadership of the organisation may have changed and that the current leader has even executed some of the former executive. This is unusual but with this organisation nothing can be ruled out. Even the Taliban had rules and followed a single leader, even if they didn’t always agree with his policies. There were splits and different factions but at the end of the day, the mullah was the leader and that was that. The fact that a fervent member of Boko Haram has made a move and changed the leadership may have lead to the change of tactics used by the grouping.
This state of ‘warfare’ used to be called ‘asymmetric’. In my opinion, this is no longer the case as it seems to be the only kind of warfare around. The days of armies facing each other are long gone and now nations have to deal with radical, militant groups such as this.
Even if there has been no real change in leadership and just a ‘shuffle’, Boko Haram have had a recent kicking by the French and their former tactics of intimidation and sacking of isolated villages have had to change. They needed to adopt a new modus operandi in order to ensure that their message is heard.
This is not an unusual tactic. Even the most stupid of terrorist knows that if a brick wall is placed in their way, the easiest thing to do is walk around it. Tactics change and it appears that Boko Haram have become more pro-active and significantly smarter in identifying targets. Not only that, instead of using a person to blow himself up causing a few casualties, they have finally figured out a better way to become a martyr.
There are exceptions to every rule and the skill is identifying the best tactics for any given situation. In the past, attacks were usually either a car bomb, a common tactic being used by the Sunni muslim militants in Iraq at the moment, or the standard suicide bomber. The success of the former was always something that could never be assessed due to numerous factors, including the mindset of the bomber at the time.
These tactics have, unfortunately, become commonplace in areas of extremist muslim militants against those they believe are not following whatever code they believe in. Although the results are always horrifying and terrible for those involved, they have become the norm and the newsworthiness of each attack diminishes unless the death rate is high. The bomber that killed the christians after Sunday mass had a dense target, an obviously religious context and the outrage resulting in the numerous deaths was going to be noticed. An example of understanding the target, movements and the best times to get the best results.
This is normal military planning. The main aim is to take the enemy by surprise and ensure that they are always a step behind you and thereby making them reactionary, something any commander never wants. There was a time when european terrorism was planned in such a way but the terrorism in the middle east always seemed random and ill planned.
The attack on the shopping mall in Kenya showed the world that Boko Haram have taken a significant step forward in their thinking and planning of terrorist attacks in order to achieve the greatest effect. Their planning was careful and not rushed. The preparations for the attack were made by utilising a weakness in the security of the shopping centre as the grouping had hired a shop area within the mall. This allowed them access to service elevators in which they could bring all the necessary materiel for the attack without raising any suspicion.
Another significant aspect of the attack is the use of different armaments depending on the situation. For example, they used small arms fire and grenades for the civilians in the shopping centre and the ill equipped security personnel. When the police and military were called in, they switched to heavier weaponry in order to counter the threat. In the end, the operation to neutralise the terrorists resulted in massive damage to the shopping centre.
The media coverage was global, just what the leadership would have wanted. There is a saying about terrorism, ‘kill one, scare ten thousand’. The attack on the shopping centre would have had that affect due to the world wide media coverage.
The subsequent attack on the college dormitories was sickening in its outcome and its simplicity. Boko Haram killed a lot of innocent children with no loss to themselves. Again it what is considered a ‘soft’ target. It’s doubtful that the college campus had any real security and a small group infiltrating the campus in the dead of night would be simple. The result was horrific and again it made world wide news.
Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations of this nature will always choose a soft target, preferably civilian over a harder target such as the military. The reasoning is simple. Soldiers are expected to accept the risk of death and attacking something that can fight back is not logical. Killing those who can’t fight back, especially if they are sleeping is both cowardly and much easier. Terrorists don’t care if you think the attacks are cowardly, they just want you to be affected by them, especially in the regions where the attacks take place.
The overall effect, the erosion of the most important aspect of our lives. Security. Imagine a situation where if you stepped out of your house into the street there was a significant chance that you or members of your family could be killed, how often would you go out?
We take our security for granted and don’t think about what happens behind the scenes in order for us to take that security for granted. A few years ago I read a comment by someone in the UK in a national newspaper. He was commenting on why the British Army was in Afghanistan and he doesn’t support the military because they have never done anything for him. It’s a pity that man doesn’t live in the areas where Boko Haram operate. Perhaps then he may understand and appreciate more what he took for granted.
As for the people in these areas, their security cannot be guaranteed. The single most important thing the population want from their government and Boko Haram have proven it to be inadequate. That is exactly what the leadership want and will continue to erode the apparent effectiveness of the government to protect them with more killings.
There is no doubt that numerous intelligence organisations are trying to ascertain who and where is the leadership of Boko Haram. The need to neutralise the operational capability and success of this organisation is paramount in order to promote an increased sense of security to the people. Actually achieving that will be a lot harder than me just writing about it. There are numerous difficulties in achieving this.
Firstly you have to identify who the leadership is. If they remain unidentified they can live and move around in plain sight. This would be the worse case scenario as the ability of the unidentified leader to openly plan, organise and obtain equipment would be unhindered.
Once identified, ascertaining their whereabouts becomes the next problem. If they hide, it may restrict some of their abilities which would have to be undertaken by intermediaries, who may prove to be incompetent. Also, due to the nature of the land, locating a single individual in the area would be like trying to find a needle in a needlestack.
There are numerous other tasks that intelligence and security personnel must do in order to provide the most fragile sense of security. Even the might of America and the resources available to them could not ensure the security of areas in Afghanistan so imagine how difficult it will be for local intelligence and security agencies.
It is very likely Boko Haram will continue to perform other atrocities while the media spotlight is on them. If there is a new leadership that is able to plan intricate operations or identify soft targets that would lead to international outrage and press coverage, then they must be stopped by whatever means necessary. Easier said than done, but if they continue to succeed then the population will seek the easiest route to a more secure life and if that means embracing the beliefs and laws of Boko Haram, what other choice would they have?
What choice would you have?