The grisly attacks in France and Lebanon last week have fixed attention on the violence perpetrated by ISIS. But a study published this week indicates that the world’s deadliest terrorist organization actually operates thousands of miles south of Paris and Beirut, in Nigeria.
The 2015 Global Terrorism Index, published by the Institute for Economics & Peace, found that Boko Haram, the Nigerian jihadist group, was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, compared with 6,073 at the hands of ISIS. Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002 as an Islamist movement against Western education and morphed into an armed insurgency in 2009, has rapidly expanded its scope and ambitions over the past two years, achieving international notoriety in the spring of 2014 by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. Much like ISIS, the organization controls territory in Nigeria (although it has lost some of it over the past year) and has declared a caliphate in that territory. The group is also international; although based in northeastern Nigeria, it has launched attacks in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In the latest incident, Boko Haram is the suspected author of an attack in the Nigerian city of Yola that has left more than 30 people dead.
The scale of Boko Haram’s bloodlust may come as a surprise to those who are more used to hearing about Mosul than Maiduguri, but the Obama administration is well aware of the threat posed by the group. The U.S. government has been providing training, equipment, and funding to countries menaced by Boko Haram, though it has notably declined to sell weapons to the Nigerian government. Two weeks before announcing his decision to send Special Operations Forces into Syria, Barack Obama authorized the deployment of 300 U.S. troops to Cameroon, accompanied by unarmed Predator drones, to help in the struggle against the Nigerian terrorist group.
Data from the Global Terrorism Index, which is based on the University of Maryland’s database of terrorist attacks around the world since 1970, demonstrates why Boko Haram is worthy of such attention. In last year’s index, which my colleague Kathy Gilsinan explored, Nigeria had the fourth-highest number of deaths by terrorism of any country in the world; in this year’s, it had the second-highest, falling only behind Iraq. Nigeria also experienced the largest increase in deaths from terrorism on record: a 300-percent increase from 2013 to 2014. Notably, Boko Haram was responsible for fewer terrorist incidents than ISIS—453 compared with 1,071—which only emphasizes the lethality of its attacks. In 2014, the group perpetrated half of the world’s 20 most fatal terrorist attacks.