Al Qaeda killed almost 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, triggering two wars and a decade of global strife. Another Islamic terrorist group has killed more than 20,000 people in just seven years yet drew scant notice outside its base of operations. Then a hashtag called attention to its outrage after the kidnapping of at least 276 teenage girls. It is Boko Haram, dedicated to imposing its own version of Islamic law on Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. The name means “western education is a sin” and it has brought jihad to another poor, ethnically divided region and provoked a global discussion of what the world should do about it. The debate is complicated by the group's declared allegiance to Islamic State and accusations of human rights abuses by Nigeria’s security forces.
In 2016, Boko Haram was driven from much of its stronghold in the northeast, the poorest part of the country. It was a victory for President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general who was elected in 2015 in the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the end of colonial rule. There are still periodic attacks — including suicide bombings by children — and a deepening humanitarian crisis. With the fighting spilling over into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, more than 2 million people have fled their homes and 5 million may need food aid, according to the United Nations. In February, Buhari spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump about the need for more equipment to fight terrorism. Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram's leader, has continued to publish threatening videos, including one in May disputing reports he may have been killed in an airstrike. The schoolgirls were abducted from a dormitory in the predominantly Christian town of Chibok in 2014. A group of 82 were returned in a prisoner swap on May 7; another 21 were released in October. Their plight unleashed a viral social media campaign using the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls.