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Factbox: What is Boko Haram?

(Reuters) - The Islamist group Boko Haram says it was responsible for the abduction of hundreds of boys from a school in Katsina state in northwestern Nigeria, according to an audio message from a man identifying himself as the movement’s leader.

FILE PHOTO: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks in front of guards in an unknown location in Nigeria in this still image taken from an undated video obtained on January 15, 2018. Boko Haram Handout/Sahara Reporters via REUTERS

If the audio recording is genuine, the attack on Dec. 11 marks a significant widening of the group’s influence beyond its northeastern base, security experts say.

Following are details about Boko Haram.

BOKO HARAM’S ORIGINS

The group’s name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria.

Its original members were followers of militant preacher Mohammed Yusuf who was based in the northeastern state of Borno and wanted a wider adoption of Islamic sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation.

He died in police custody in 2009. The following year, his deputy, Abubakar Shekau, said in a video he was the group’s new leader.

TACTICS

Under Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram has carried out suicide bombings in churches and markets and abducted thousands of people in northeastern Nigeria.

In 2014, Boko Haram began overrunning northeastern towns to try to create an Islamic state adhering to sharia law.

By early 2015, Boko Haram controlled a swathe of land around the size of Belgium near Lake Chad before being driven from most of it by troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Bomb attacks, looting and shootings in villages and cities continued.

More than 30,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced from their homes since the insurgency began in 2009, according to the United Nations refugee agency and the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank.

KIDNAPPING

Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014, an attack that sparked outrage and gave rise to a global #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

About half the girls have since been found or freed but many never returned home and some are thought to have died in captivity.

Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of other people to raise ransom money and recruits, and provide wives for its fighters, regional security experts say.

SPLIT

Shekau pledged allegiance to global jihadist group Islamic State in 2015. But the following year, it named another figure, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, as its leader in West Africa.

Shekau rejected the move, and the groups split in 2016.

The regional security analysts say the split was over Shekau’s refusal to adhere to Islamic State’s instructions to target the Nigerian military rather than civilians.

AREAS OF OPERATION

Boko Haram’s roots are in northeastern Nigeria, but it has carried out bombings and shootings in neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Boko Haram has not previously said it has carried out any attacks in northwestern Nigeria.

Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Timothy Heritage

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