In the 2002, Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic Nigerian Muslim cleric, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri, Nigeria. He built a school and a religious complex under the organization’s name, which means: “Western education is a sin.”
Ten years later the educational effort has become a murderous rebel group. Boko Haram has killed about 1,000 people and threatens the stability of Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil exporter. And while their motives are not always clear, Boko Haram's latest targets befit their name: The group is attacking schools.
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Boko Haram has burned down at least 12 schools in northern Nigeria, leaving thousands of children without access to education, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
“Boko Haram’s attacks on schools represent a new and reprehensible development since the group began its campaign of violence in 2009,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, HRW deputy children’s rights director. “Children and educational institutions should be left alone, full stop.”
When the group originally formed, Yusuf, like some other Muslim clerics in Nigeria before him, rejected government-run “Western” schools, and secular leadership, according to the BBC. The broadcaster quotes one phrase from the Quran that is important to the sect: "Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors."
In the years that followed its formation, Boko Haram militarized, rising up against Nigerian security forces. Between 2002 and 2005, Boko Haram attacked the government several times, killing soldiers, taking hostages and siezing military equipment. Dozens of militants were killed, and others were arrested. The U.N. news agency IRIN reports that 12 police officers were taken hostage and later presumed dead during that time. Almost as many more were killed outright.
In 2005, Boko Haram went quiet. For at least three years it gathered strength, equipment and followers, reemerging in 2009 in what is now called an “insurgency” by some and a “terrorist” group by others, Voice of America reports.
The 2009 uprising left about 800 dead, including Boko Haram founder Yusuf. Most were sect members, IRIN reports. A year later, the group staged a jailbreak, freeing about 700 inmates, including 100 suspected members. Four people were killed in the attack, including two security officers and two civilians.
And then, the violence began.
From December 2010 to the end of December 2011, Boko Haram attacks intensified. Police headquarters, churches, markets and the U.N. headquarters were attacked. On Christmas 2011 Nigeria's capital, Abuja, was rocked by church bombings that killed dozens of people. It is believed that Boko Haram is responsible for 1,000 deaths since 2009 including political figures, clerics, banks, churches, police officers, soldiers, U.N. workers, market sellers, butchers, civil servants and bystanders, both Muslim and Christian.
The group is believed to be responsible for 300 deaths so far this year, including the 200 slaughtered in the northern city of Kano in January, the AP reports. In recent months, Boko Haram has said its goals are to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, and to free imprisoned members.
Boko Haram's new strategy of attacking government schools is strongly criticized in the new report by Human Rights Watch.
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