Dead bodies are laid out for burial, in the village of Konduga, in northeastern Nigeria, on February 12, 2014 after a gruesome attack by Boko Haram Islamists killed 39 people.
Boko Haram 'increasingly monstrous'
02:52 - Source: CNN

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Boko Haram's aim is to impose Sharia law in Nigeria

It surpassed ISIS as the deadliest terror group last year

CNN  — 

Boko Haram’s radical savagery is escalating, along with the number of people killed by the terror group.

As the world remains transfixed on ISIS, Boko Haram has bombed schools, churches and mosques; kidnapped women and children; and assassinated politicians and religious leaders alike.

Last year, Boko Haram claimed the morbid title of deadliest terror group for its killings in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

The Islamic extremist group based in northern Nigeria killed 6,644 people in 2014, an increase of more than 300% from the previous year, according to the latest tally from the Global Terrorism Index.

It killed more people than ISIS, which it reportedly pledged allegiance to last year, the tally says. And the attacks continue, with dozens killed Saturday when militants on motorcycles raided a Nigerian village.

What exactly is Boko Haram, and why has it turned into a Nigerian synonym for fear and bloodshed?

What does ‘Boko Haram’ mean?

The name translates to “Western education is sin” in the local Hausa language.

The militant group says its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

In recent years, its attacks have intensified in an apparent show of defiance amid the nation’s military onslaught. Its ambitions appear to have expanded to the destruction of the Nigerian government.

How long has it been around?

The group was founded 14 years ago by Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic cleric who called for a pure Islamic state in Nigeria. Police killed him in 2009 in an incident captured on video and posted online.

The crackdown, some say, made Boko Haram more violent and defiant.

Abubakar Shekau took control of the group and escalated the attacks. It murdered and kidnapped Westerners and started a bombing campaign that targets churches, mosques and government buildings.

Why not just kill Abubakar Shekau?

One word: Elusive.

Questions have swirled about Shekau, including whether he’s dead or alive. Even his age is unknown – estimates range between 35 and 44.

In recent years, the Nigerian military has touted his death, only to retract its claim after he appeared alive and vibrant in propaganda videos.

He uses the alias Darul Tawheed, and analysts describe him as a ruthless loner and master of disguise. He does not speak directly with members, opting to communicate through a few select confidants.

Why would Islamist terrorists target the Muslim north?

Despite its religious fanaticism, Boko Haram does not consider all Muslims as supporters and allies.

There have been suggestions that it attacks certain mosques because members have spoken out against it and helped federal officials with their crackdown. Its attacks are aimed at striking fear at the heart of the local population to prevent cooperation with the government, analysts say.

Does the north support the group?

Although the northern populace mostly abhors the violence, there is considerable local sympathy and support for Sharia law, seen by many as the only way to end what is widely regarded as a corrupt and inept government. Poverty is prevalent in the northern region, and as the military struggles to halt Boko Haram’s attacks, the militant group is winning perhaps its most important battle: making Nigerians question government competency.