A look inside Boko Haram

Earlier this week Buzzfeed published a remarkable look at life inside Boko Haram, based largely on interviews with women who were once held captive by the group. They paint a picture of a group that is poorly organized, orchestrates attacks for the hell of it, with little thought to any kind of plan, and can barely keep feeding its own fighters let alone hang on to its captives or win local support:

Yet in three months of imprisonment, Yohana discovered the world’s deadliest insurgents appeared to operate largely on whims, belying an international image as a fierce, organized fighting force. After ransacking village after village dependent on subsistence farming, its fighters struggled to feed themselves. With almost zero state-building capabilities, food production fell to the wayside — which meant the commander attempting to groom Yohana struggled to feed himself, let alone his captive, on a daily basis.

Ahead of presidential elections in April 2015, the military began cracking down on the group, wresting back much of their territory land and liberating hundreds. But many, like Yohana, manage to escape on their own as it is apparently overwhelmed by the numbers of women it holds in bush camps, mountainous hideouts or far-flung outposts.

As Boko Haram has lost territory it has, expectedly, increased its emphasis on terror attacks. The ex-captives talk about how they were groomed, possibly with the goal of turning them into suicide bombers:

Fear, intimidation, and sexual slavery have long been staples in entrapping recruits, but interviews by BuzzFeed News with women held captive by Boko Haram reveal the methods they also use to groom their victims, in a period that has seen a dramatic rise in the number of female suicide bombers.

About a month after being kidnapped, Yohana remembered a Boko Haram commander approaching her. The turbaned man repeated his promise that she could ask for anything she wanted, so she chose what she’d longed for most since being abducted: a cell phone to call her mother.

Her captor refused her request, instead crouching down so close that the AK-47 strapped on his shoulder banged against hers. “He told me: ‘Forget your mother. Boko Haram is your mother now,’” she told BuzzFeed News.

The commander then smiled down at her and asked if she would like a mango instead — something sweet to break the monotony of watery gruel they had eaten each day for the past six weeks. A few hours later he returned and tossed the fruit at her feet: “Anything you want, just talk to Boko Haram and we will bring it to you,” he told her.

Very chilling stuff, but very much worth your time.

Boko Haram’s head psychopath Abubakar Shekau (Wikimedia)

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