Mere hours after bombing a bus station packed with morning commuters in Nigeria’s capital, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram stormed a girls’ school in the northeast and kidnapped 129 students. The schoolgirls are between the ages of 15 and 18.
The bombing happened on rush-hour Monday morning, with the bomb blast killing 71 and wounding 124 others. It was the group’s first major attack in the capital in two years.
In previous months, most of the insurgents’ attacks had been concentrated in the poor northeast, including the bombing of schools, churches and mosques, and burning villages to the ground.
This recent attack on the capital of Africa’s most populous and economically progressive country exposes the serious threat that the 5-year-old Boko Haram insurgency has become in recent years.
“We are in your city,” Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said, addressing Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, in the 28-minute video where he claimed responsibility for the recent bombing and indicated that Boko Haram had fighters based in the capital.
Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western education is a sin”, was officially founded in 2002, but was initially a peaceful organization. It aimed to establish a Shariah government, and attracted followers by speaking out against police, political corruption and the current “colonional government”.
By 2009 however, there were reports that the Boko Haram’s members were arming themselves. Following the group’s refusal to observe a law making motorcycle helmets mandatory, police came into action and several members of the group were arrested. This sparked widespread riots and a resulted in a bloodbath with a death toll of more than 800 dead in a single week. The group’s founder and then leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed during this time while in police custody.
Boko Haram carried out its first attack in January 2011, and since then has went on a killing spree, targeting government officials, Christian and Muslim leaders, and has perpetrated countless indiscriminate mass murders.
Following a suicide car bombing at Abuja’s United Nations building in that killed 21 people in 2011, the US State Department has since classified Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, citing its alleged links to Al Qaeda.
Nigeria’s military said on Wednesday its forces had freed most of the 129 teenage schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram. “The principal of the school has confirmed that only eight of the students are still missing.” says spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade.
The search and rescue for eight missing students are still ongoing.