ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS SINCE 2011

Circles are sized based on

number of fatalities

2,000

400

100

Urban areas

NIGER

Baga

BENIN

Abuja

CHAD

NIGERIA

Lagos

Gulf of

Guinea

CAMEROON

0

200

MILES

ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS SINCE 2011

Circles are sized based on number of fatalities

Urban areas

400

100

10

NIGER

Baga

Kano

Maiduguri

BENIN

CHAD

Abuja

CAMEROON

NIGERIA

Lagos

Sahara

Gulf of

Guinea

NIGERIA

0

100

Atlantic

Ocean

500

0

Detail

MILES

MILES

ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS SINCE 2011

Circles are sized based on number of fatalities

Urban areas

400

100

10

NIGER

Baga

Kano

Maiduguri

BENIN

CHAD

Abuja

NIGERIA

Lagos

Sahara

CAMEROON

Gulf of

Guinea

NIGERIA

Atlantic

Ocean

500

0

Detail

MILES

0

100

MILES

As the Islamic State’s attacks in Europe have captured the world’s attention, an ISIS-affiliated group has been waging an even deadlier campaign in Africa.

Hundreds killed when 20 attackers detonated coordinated blasts at police stations around a city. Fifty dead when suicide bombers, including women and children, attacked a market and camps housing people trying to escape the violence. Fifty Christians targeted and killed in a student housing area near a school.

These are a few of the hundreds of horrors wrought regularly by Boko Haram, an Islamist militant organization based in Nigeria, over the past six years.

[Boko Haram is forcing more children to carry out suicide bombings]

The group’s rise, some experts say, is attributable to government corruption and economic differences between the Muslim northern areas and more populous and prosperous Christian South.

While military forces have had some success regaining territory in the past year, Boko Haram continues to carry out attacks on civilians.

People gather around burnt cars near a Catholic church after a bomb blast in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on December 25, 2011. (Sunday Aghaeze/Getty Images)
Young girls fleeing Boko Haram walk past livestock burned by the militants on Feb. 6 in Mairi village, near Maiduguri. (AFP/Getty Images)

Last year was the group’s deadliest yet, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which tracks civil unrest and political violence in Africa and Asia.

[It’s not just the Islamic State. Other terror groups surge in West Africa.]

Researchers recorded more than 6,000 fatalities resulting from Boko Haram attacks aimed at civilians. Because the counts below include only attacks on civilians, and not battles over territory, they underestimate what some say is a total of 15,000 people killed by the group.

Deaths in attacks aimed

at civilians, by month

0

500

1K

1.5K

2011

2012

2013

2014

Jan. 2015

A multi-day attack

in the town of Baga left about 2,000 dead, some

estimates suggest.

2015

2016

Deaths in attacks aimed

at civilians, by month

Jan. 2015: A multi-day attack in the town of Baga left about 2,000 dead, some estimates suggest.

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

1,500

1,000

500

0

Deaths in attacks aimed at civilians, by month

Jan. 2015: A multi-day attack in the town of Baga left about 2,000 dead, some estimates suggest.

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

1,500

1,000

500

0

J F M A M J J A S O N D

J F M A M J J A S O N D

J F M A M J J A S O N D

J F M A M J J A S O N D

J F M A M J J A S O N D

J F M

[Did Boko Haram attack leave 150 dead — or 2,000? Satellite imagery sheds new light.]

Conflict in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has spilled over into neighboring nations, including Cameroon, which recently launched a campaign to retake territory from the militants. Chad, Benin and Niger have also contributed soldiers to the fight.

[Cameroon seeks to drive out Boko Haram ‘once and for all’]

How Boko Haram evolved

A government crackdown in 2009 led the group to turn to violence. In 2010, a jailbreak freed more than 700 inmates. Increasingly in the following years, militants carried out hundreds of attacks, many that killed more than 10, and some that claimed hundreds.

2011

114 dead in 32 attacks

Boko Haram was established in 2002 in Maiduguri, but it was years before it spawned an insurgency. By 2011, its fighters were attacking government officials, police and religious figures. That December, it launched a

suicide attack on a U.N. regional headquarters in Abuja.

 

2012

910 dead in 148 attacks

The insurgents increased the

sophistication of their attacks, with

a gunfire-and-bomb assault on

government buildings that killed at least 185 people in January in the Northern city of Kano.

2013

1,008 dead in 108 attacks

As Boko Haram’s attacks grew more brutal, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in

three states in the northeast. The U.S. government designated Boko Haram

a terrorist organization.

2014

3,425 dead in 220 attacks

The group gained international attention after its fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, which prompted the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign. That August, Boko Haram announced it had established a “caliphate” in the expanding territory it controlled.

 

2015

6,006 dead in 270 attacks

Boko Haram declared its loyalty to the Islamic State. Troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger launched an offensive that eventually recaptured many towns from the militants.

2016

422 dead in 36 attacks

Boko Haram has been forced from much of the territory it controlled, but it continues to carry out suicide

bombings in populated areas in northeastern Nigeria.

2011

114 dead in 32 attacks

Boko Haram was established in 2002 in Maiduguri, but it was years before it spawned an insurgency. By 2011, its fighters were attacking government officials, police and religious figures. That December, it launched a

suicide attack on a U.N. regional headquarters in Abuja.

 

2012

910 dead in 148 attacks

The insurgents increased the sophistication of their attacks, with a gunfire-and-bomb assault on government buildings that killed at least 185 people in January in the Northern city of Kano.

2013

1,008 dead in 108 attacks

As Boko Haram’s attacks grew more brutal, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three states in the northeast. The U.S. government

designated Boko Haram a terrorist organization.

2014

3,425 dead in 220 attacks

The group gained international attention after its fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, which prompted the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign. That August, Boko Haram announced it had established a “caliphate” in the expanding territory it controlled.

 

2015

6,006 dead in 270 attacks

Boko Haram declared its loyalty to the Islamic State. Troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger launched an offensive that eventually recaptured many towns from the militants.

2016

422 dead in 36 attacks

Boko Haram has been forced from much of the territory it controlled, but it continues to carry out suicide

bombings in populated areas in northeastern Nigeria.

As government forces have reclaimed territory, the group’s scorched-earth tactics have been on display.

“The scene was post-apocalyptic, an entire city destroyed. Almost every building, it seemed, had been ransacked or set on fire,” Washington Post reporter Kevin Sieff wrote last year after touring the group’s former capital city, Gwoza. “Schools were in ruin. Bodies decayed in a pile.”

[I’ve seen the Taliban’s brutality in Afghanistan. Boko Haram might be worse.]

An aerial view of the destroyed town of Gwoza, Boko Haram's base in northern Nigeria, recently retaken by the Nigerians, on April 8, 2015. (Jane Hahn for the Washington Post)

Millions of Nigerians fleeing violence

Stopping the insurgency is not the only crisis Nigeria faces. More than 2 million Nigerians have been forced to leave their homes to escape the violence. The map below shows the number of internally displaced persons by country, as reported by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center:

None

Less than

1,000

More than

1 million

Syria

6.6 million

Nigeria

2.6 million*

Colombia

6.0 million

IDPs

Country

Syria

6.6M

Colombia

6.0M

Iraq

3.3M

Sudan

3.1M

Democratic Republic

of the Congo

2.9M

Nigeria*

2.6M

Yemen

2.5M

* Recent estimate from the International

Organization for Migration

Less than 1,000

More than 1 million

None

Syria

6.6 million

Iraq

3.3 million

Nigeria

2.6 million*

Sudan

3.1 million

Colombia

6.0 million

Dem. Rep. of Congo

2.9 million

* Recent estimate from the International Organization for Migration

A girl does laundry in the Dalori camp for internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, Nigeria, which houses close to 20,000 people. (Jane Hahn for the Washington Post)

[They were freed from Boko Haram’s rape camps. But their nightmare isn’t over.]

While it may not draw the attention of the West as frequently as the Islamic State, Boko Haram is one of the most devastating terrorist organizations in the world. Regaining territory from the group will only be the first step in a long process of healing the deep wounds it has inflicted.

Sources: Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Congressional Research Service, Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, Council on Foreign Relations, staff reports.

Editor’s picks

What a year of Islamic State terror looks like

The Islamic State has grown beyond its original home in Syria and Iraq.

Quiz: Do you know Africa?

FROM THE ARCHIVES | Name the continent’s nearly 50 countries.