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Fact Box: Understanding Nigeria's Boko Haram

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Suspected members of the shadowy Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram killed four people and a large undetonated bomb was found in Kano on Monday, thanks to the timely intervention of Joint Task Force (JTF) operatives who discovered the car laden

 with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) parked by the roadside at the ever-busy Zaria Road bypass in Kano, Nigeria's second largest city and the scene of Boko Haram's most deadly strike - a coordinated attack in January that killed 178 people.

On Easter Sunday a man attempted to force a car packed with explosives into a church compound during a service but after being stopped by security he turned back and the bomb exploded by a large group of motorbike taxi riders, the police and witnesses said. Hospital staff and a Red Cross official confirmed the death toll and said 13 people were critically wounded. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the apparent targeting of a Christian place of worship stirred memories of a string of deadly assaults by Boko Haram on Christmas Day last year, including one at a church that killed at least 37 people and wounded more than 50. 

The volcano of public rage has erupted at the same time that a spate of bombings and shootings by the shadowy Islamist Boko Haram sect is threatening to fracture Nigeria's sensitive north-south, Muslim-Christian divide. This religious fault line has caused sectarian conflict raising fears that Nigeria could again be headed for civil war.

Whilst Nigeria is held hostage by this obvious security threat, Nigerians are overwhelmed by a sense of indignation, as our social superstructure is daily inundated with soul-destroying disclosures of sleaze and corruption of monumental proportions. Though our sensibilities have become blunted by other dimensions of grand corruption that have overrun this country, the recent Pensions Fund scam simply boggles the mind. Not to mention the indiscretions behind the House Committee and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) squabble. Whilst these scandals take center stage; and anti-establishment rage drives the sectarian violence, questions are being asked: who are these Boko Haram and what do they want? Here is the fact file:

The Group
*Boko Haram became active in about 2003 and is concentrated mainly in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna.

*Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language means "Western education is sinful," is loosely modeled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

*The group considers all who do not follow its strict ideology as infidels, whether they are Christian or Muslim. It demands the adoption of sharia, or Islamic law, across Nigeria.

*Boko Haram followers have prayed in their own mosques in cities including Maiduguri, Kano and Sokoto, and wear long beards and red or black headscarves.

*The group published an ultimatum in January 2012 giving Christians three days to leave northern Nigeria. Since then, attacks in northeastern Nigeria have killed many and hundreds of Christians have fled to the south. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on Dec. 31 in an effort to contain the violence.

*Human Rights Watch said in January that the sect had killed at least 935 people since 2009.  

*Jonathan said the violent sect had supporters within his own government and the insecurity the group had created was worse than during the civil war that broke out in 1967 and killed over a million people.

*In a recent success, the purported spokesman for Boko Haram called Abu Qaqa was arrested on Feb. 1. Abu Qaqa, said on March 20 it had "closed all possible doors of negotiation" with a government of "unbelievers" that it cannot trust, and called on Muslims to join the fight against it.

Major Attacks by Boko Haram
* In its first attack in Jan. 2004, it attacked a town in Yobe State before being forced to withdraw by security forces.

*In July 2009, Boko Haram staged attacks in the northeastern city of Bauchi after the arrest of some of its members, and clashed with police and the army in Maiduguri. About 800 people were killed in five days of fighting in the two cities. Later that month, sect leader Mohammed Yusuf was captured by Nigerian security forces and shot dead in police detention hours later. In early July 2010, Abubakar Shekau, a former deputy leader of the sect who was thought to have been killed by police in 2009, appeared in a video and claimed leadership.

*On Aug. 26, 2011 a suicide bomber struck the UN building in Abuja. At least 23 people were killed and 76 wounded. Boko Haram claimed responsibility on Aug. 29, demanding the release of prisoners and an end to a security crackdown aimed at preventing more bombings. It was the first known suicide bombing in Nigeria.

*An attack on St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Madalla on Abuja's outskirts during a packed Christmas mass was the deadliest of a series of Christmas attacks on Nigerian churches and other targets by the sect. At least 37 people were killed.

*On Jan. 20, 2012 coordinated bomb and gun attacks on security forces in the northern city of Kano killed at least 186 people in the group's most deadly attack.

*On Feb. 26 a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a church in Jos, killing two people. Reprisals soon followed and Christian youths killed at least 10 people in Jos days later.

*On Easter Sunday a bomber tried to drive a car packed with explosives into a church compound in northern Kaduna during an Easter Sunday service. However the car was stopped and the driver turned back. The bomb exploded by a large group of motorbike taxi riders, the police said. At least 36 people were killed and 13 critically injured.