The Nigerian government announced that it has killed 13 Boko Haram rebels in the northern town of Maiduguri. The aggressive campaign comes in the wake of Boko Haram’s brutal massacres of 27 Christians, including 12 people during Christmas services.
The Christmas attacks were condemned from Vatican City, where Pope Benedict XVI referred to them during his traditional Christmas message as “savage acts of terrorism.”
One assault occurred at the Church of Christ in Nations in Postikum, in Yobe province, where an unnamed gunman attacked worshippers during prayer, killing six people, including the pastor and setting the building on fire. Another attack was at the First Baptist Church in Maiduguri in Borno state, where a deacon and five church members were killed.
Six days after the Christmas attacks, suspected Boko Haram fighters killed at least 15 Christian worshippers, in some cases slitting their throats.
The nation’s Joint Task Force Operation Restore Order engaged Boko Haram in an afternoon gunfight in Maiduguri, according to spokesman Sagir Musa.
The task force called Boko Haram attacks going back to July 2012 “incessant callous, brutal, barbaric and impious killings.”
According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has thus far killed more than 2,800 people in Nigeria.
Boko Haram was founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yosuf, a spiritual leader who preached against the teachings of the Western world. The name Boko Haram translates to “Western education is forbidden” in Hausa.
For its first seven years the group operated peacefully, until rumors of its members stockpiling weapons thrust it into direct conflict with the Nigerian government. Members of Boko Haram were forcibly apprehended in Bauchi during July 2009, Yosuf among them. He was later killed in what was believed to be an escape attempt from prison. Almost a year later, Boko Haram staged a prison break in Bauchi, freeing over 700 prisoners. It was the first attack in the current wave that has rocked Nigeria.
Many believe that Boko Haram has been re-indoctrinated following the death of its leader, finding heavy influence from al-Qaida related groups. The insurgents have since been supplied with explosives and arms, originating from eastern regions. Libya is thought to be the source of many of these illegal weapons, following the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.
Boko Haram has placed itself directly at odds with the Nigerian government, announcing that they would “devour” President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan said that the extremist group would be eliminated by the middle of this year.
Religious conflict has been a common occurrence in Nigeria’s past, but increased regional division could heighten internal tensions even further. The U.S. has expressed growing concerns that Boko Haram could pose a threat to American interests in the region, or to the U.S. directly. Nigeria is one of the few African countries with regular flights to America. Some Nigerians believe that Boko Haram is a product of the CIA, secretly funded to create unrest in northern Nigeria.
But while the world watches Boko Haram’s religious attacks in horror, Stephen Hayes, president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa, wrote in USNews.com that outsiders should not get involved in the conflict because it will only make it worse.
“Because of Boko Haram it is no coincidence that the Pentagon has announced that U.S. troop engagement in Africa, albeit largely for training purposes, will increase in number and projects in Africa,” he wrote. “Neither can any victory be won by military intervention, be it through training or direct participation in the fight. As has been seen almost everywhere else, the greater the intervention, the greater growing resentment against foreign troops. Would it be any different were it the case in the United States?”
Hayes concluded, “What will be important is a coordination between State Department, the Pentagon and the host governments, and in Nigeria, it will be especially important to have the various state governors, who wield exceptional powers in Nigeria, to be in concord on actions and desired results. The battle against terrorism and destabilization of world communities can only be won through common goals and exceptional communication. ”