Indoctrinated: A screengrab taken on May 12 from a video of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram shows girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram released a new video claiming to show the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, alleging they had converted to Islam and would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed.  *AFP photo/Boko Haram
Indoctrinated: A screengrab taken on May 12 from a video of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram shows girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram released a new video claiming to show the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, alleging they had converted to Islam and would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed. *AFP photo/Boko Haram

Boko Haram has grabbed national headlines for the abduction of more than 200 girls in Nigeria. 

The terrorist group has been killing and wreaking havoc in Africa’s most populous country for years. We take a look at the history of the group.


What exactly happened?

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from the town of Chibok in Borno state on April 14.


That sounds dreadful.  Are they all still missing?

About 50 escaped, but the rest remain in Boko Haram’s custody.


Why did they do this?

Wreaking havoc is the group’s calling card. Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009, by attacking police stations. Since that time the group has killed thousands through bombings and assassinations in Nigeria’s northeast. Boko Haram killed Christian preachers and Muslim imams who disagree with their stringent and radical interpretation of the Qu’ran.  

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam where it’s forbidden for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with western society. 

That includes voting, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education. 

It also includes ideas like evolution and most of modern science and rejects the idea that girls should be educated.


What happens next?

The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, just released a 17-minute film wherein about 130 girls wearing full veils are reciting the Qu’ran. Two of the girls say they have converted to Islam. Shakau now says he will release some of the girls — those who refused to convert to Islam — in exchange for Boko Haram prisoners. He had previously said he intended to sell the girls in a market.


Where are the girls now?

No one knows for sure. There is speculation they are in the remote Sambisa forest reserve, which is inaccessible even to all-terrain vehicles. Others have speculated they are being held across the border in neighbouring Cameroon.


How was Boko Haram created?

Islamist cleric Mohammed Yusuf created Boko Haram in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the north-eastern state of Borno. The group wanted to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, which would include sharia courts. The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, meaning “people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teachings and jihad”. Locally, they’re known as Boko Haram, which has been translated to “Western education is sin” (recent reports have challenged that translation). Yusuf was shot to death by Nigerian security forces in 2009.


Who exactly comprises Boko Haram?

The group draws members from the ranks of the poor and unemployed in the country’s economically isolated north. Experts say the government must deal with the factors that fostered an environment where Boko Haram could exist, namely crushing poverty and a disjointed education system that does not have the support of local Muslims.


What is Nigeria doing about this?

Not enough, according to many Nigerian citizens, although the government has become more receptive to international assistance, including help from Israel, in recent days.

Nigeria assembled a Joint Task Force (JTF) of military and police units to battle Boko Haram and declared a “state of emergency” in three northeast states — Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa — in May 2013.

But that task force could not prevent the abduction of the girls.

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, CNN, Council on Foreign Relations.