Over the past month, news of a massive kidnapping involving more than 300 Nigerian school girls has captured the world’s attention. The events have put Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram under a magnifying glass, inspired the social media hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and made the whole world aware of Nigeria's political turmoil. Still, with many factors at play in a country most people don't know much about, it hasn't been easy keep track of the sequence of events. Who are these Boko Haram people? How did some students escape? How do you keep 300 people hidden? To help answer these questions and more, we look at what the hell is happening with kindapping in Nigeria.
When did the kidnapping take place?
On the evening of April 14, more than 300 school girls were captured from the Government Girls Secondary School, a boarding school in Nigeria’s Chibok village in the northeastern state of Borno. The perpetrators were members of Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist organization with possible ties to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Who are Boko Haram?
Boko Haram (a.k.a. The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad) are an extremist group with activity in northeast Nigeria, Niger, and northern Cameroon. Some analysts believe the group has ties to Al Qaeda and that Bin Laden sent seed money to the group in 2003. Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf, whose goal was to spread Sharia law in the region. After he was killed by the Nigerian Security Force in 2009, a man named Abubakar Shekau, sometimes called the Beast of Boko Haram, took control of the group.
Who is this Shekau guy?
He's the elusive, charismatic leader at the heart of Nigeria's Islamist insurgency. Since he took control of the group violence has escalated, with tactics such as kidnappings and beheadings becoming common. No one even knows how old he is (according to CNN, estimates range from 35 to 44). He travels constantly, uses disguises, and has been impossible to capture. The United States has placed a $7 million reward for Shekau's head.
Why did Boko Haram target school girls?
The group believes that female education is forbidden by Islam, and that Western Culture is incompatible with Islamic values. Basically, female students stand for what they think is wrong in the world. The kidnapping is both a religious statement and means to an end. Shekau has threatened to sell the girls into slavery to raise money. Just yesterday, Shekau issued a video statement saying he would free students in exchange for the release of Islamist prisoners.
How is kidnapping hundreds of girls even possible?
Nigeria isn't in great shape. While it's the most populous nation in Africa, Boko Haram is controlling large parts of the north and waging an insurgency against the Nigerian government and the largely Christian south. Before the kidnapping, Boko Haram even bragged that they were going to go in and take the girls before they actually did it. Basically, they have a lot of power in the country and no one stepped in to stop them.
Why has Nigeria been so slow to act?
The U.S. House committee referred to a “lack of urgency among senior Nigerian military commanders.” Many southern Nigerians, including Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, seem hesitant to get embroiled in the situation. Many Nigerians see the northern part of the country as impossible manage and "backwards." The U.S. government along with other world leaders has put pressure on the Nigerian government to get involved and take the Boko Haram terrorist threat seriously.
So what is this #BringBackOurGirls hashtag?
After the kidnapping, a social media campaign arose to raise awareness and protest the Nigerian government's slow handling of the situation. The hashtag has spread across the Internet, with Michelle Obama even positing a photo to spread thee word. Rallies have been held all over the world to raise awareness of the events and celebrities such as Anne Hathaway, Adam Schulman, Alicia Keys, Reese Witherspoon, and Angelina Jolie are spreading the word.
How is the United States helping?
Secretary of State John Kerry has said the U.S. will act to counter the "menace of Boko Haram" and has sent technical experts to assist the Nigerian government. However, due to America's somewhat complicated relationship with Nigeria, the U.S. has not been as involved as it would like. Former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, Johnnie Carson told The Guardian that "the we can do for Nigeria are to help provide intelligence collection, better information gathering, help them to improve their investigative techniques, help them in their forensics training." Today, it was announced that U.S. surveillance aircrafts are helping with the search for the girls, but so far they haven't been able to locate them.
Haven't some students managed to escape?
Yes, 53 to be exact, which means that 276 girls remain captive. One escapee told Al Jazeera, "I told my friend that it is better to be killed than to be taken to a place that we did not know." Authorities hope the escapees can help point them to where other prisoners are being held.
What happens now?
There are seemingly two possibilities: The first is that the Nigerian government is able to locate the girls and go in with force to save them. The second is that they agree to the demands of Boko Haram and exchange captive insurgents for the school girls. In a larger context, however, the situation sheds light on the United States' role in the fight against Islamic extremists in Africa. America is using these events to strengthen its influence in the fight against terrorists in the region, who they see as a larger threat. Meanwhile, the fate of 300 girls still hangs in the balance.
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