International (MNN) — Ask the question, “What’s the world’s deadliest terror group?” and your most common answer will probably include al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
However, according to the annual Global Terrorism Index, it’s Boko Haram: a terror group that’s been responsible for torturing Nigeria since 2009. The group believes the Nigerian government is corrupt and feels that the country should be ruled under Sharia law.
Greg Musselman, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, says ISIS sees moderate Muslims “as having compromised Islam, and they’re trying to bring it back to what they [ISIS] see as ‘true’ Islam. I think with in those organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram, you would have some that they would believe in their message and are willing to do whatever…. Others are probably more opportunistic.”
In order to establish a caliphate, Boko Haram has vowed to rid the north of all non-Muslim influence–including Christians–and overthrow the Nigerian government. Many of their attacks have focused on the rural, northeastern portions of the countryside but have been spreading south and west over time. In fact, their six-year insurgency has killed 20,000 people and forced 2.3 million to flee their homes. Three northeastern Nigerian states, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, remain under a state of emergency because of Boko Haram’s attacks.
As far as “deadly” goes, the killings they’ve claimed have increased by 300% since 2013. The GTI report notes Boko Haram killed 6,664 people last year–more than the Islamic State, which killed 6,073 people in 2014. Between them, ISIS and Boko Haram were responsible for 51% of the deaths linked to militant groups last year.
So, why the perception that ISIS is more deadly? Musselman explains, “They tend to be the ones that are grabbing attention, so when you have an attack in Paris that we had last week and ISIS claims that they were the ones that were responsible for it, that catches international news.” Additionally, they’re more media savvy and have slick marketing techniques. Plus, ISIS is both moneyed and bold. ”This was just so blatant to go in and do what they did. That brings a lot of attention. Then, the bringing down of the Russian plane, coming out of Egypt; then you had the suicide bombings in Beirut.”
Although Boko Haram has been deadlier, their message isn’t as obvious. It’s all about influence. “Their terror is taking place in Nigeria [or] around there–Chad and some other countries–and it’s not as high profile. While there are media reports, they kind of all look the same–an exploded car or ambulances coming.”
Musselman notes a couple of situations that remain high-profile for the Nigerian Islamists. n April 2014, the abduction of more than 200 school-aged girls by Boko Haram militants from their boarding school in a largely Christian community drew international attention and public outcry. Since then, there has been a sharp rise in the number of girls and women used for suicide bombings.
Nigeria had had enough. The people voted in a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to beef up security. He organized a multinational coalition made up of troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin. The force pushed the militants out of areas they’d claimed as part of the caliphate. Some scattered, resurfacing in neighboring countries, waging guerrilla warfare. Then, in March, Boko Haram pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State, taking on the secondary name of Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Occasional breaks in the fighting meant Boko Haram was regrouping. In the most recent case, a three-week lull came to a violent end five days ago. The death toll in Nigeria mounted from the 18 November bombing in Kano State. It came not even a full day after Boko Haram was suspected in an explosion that killed and injured dozens in Yola, Adamawa State.
Even while churches, schools, and government buildings bear the brunt of Boko Haram’s wrath, Musselman says believers have to be resolute: “You can’t say ‘the issue is Islam.’ We need to promote Jesus Christ. I think the Bible is very clear that our battle is not against ‘flesh and blood.’” VOM provides tools for evangelism, medical care for victims of attacks, and job training for widows and other affected Christians. Church leaders are trying exemplify these thoughts: “Jesus said that we are to love our enemies, we are to pray for our enemies. We are to bless our enemies. Those words become difficult especially when it’s people who are doing such horrendous things.”
One way we can stand with Nigeria’s Church in prayer is to ask God to change the hearts of Boko Haram fighters as they encounter People of the Cross. Pray that He will strengthen the faith of the believers in Nigeria. May His perfect peace and strength continue to supernaturally sustain them.