POLS 479 Final Paper
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - POLS 479 Final Paper
ISIS and Boko Haram: Terror in the Technology Era
This piece is to serve primarily as an overview of the terrorist organizations of ISIS in the
Middle East (specifically Syria and Iraq), and Boko Haram in Africa (Nigeria). The importance
of understanding how these groups are formed, how they facilitate their actions (how they attain
and use their resources, and how technology has played into the rise and sustained life of these
two groups is imperative if we are to combat them and their ideology.
In order to define a terrorist organization, parameters have to be established to form a
base understanding of the terminology. For this paper, a terrorist will be one who engages in
violence against a civilian population in order to incite fear and motivate some sort of social or
political change (Crenshaw, 2011). There are many reasons one may be lead down the path of
extremism and become a potential terrorist. One of the key pieces to the ideologies of Boko
Haram and ISIS is their faith.
Religion has had roots in terrorism across all societies and creeds. Whether it is Islamic
extremism, extreme pro-life groups who partake in actions such as abortion clinic bombings, or
Aum Shinrikyo conducted a chemical attack on a Japanese subway, religion has been used as a
call to arms and an ultimate absolution in regards to acts of terror (Juergensmeyer, 2000). ISIS
and Boko Haram have used acts of terror and the globalization of society to further their
agendas, and move to create Caliphate in the Middle East and Africa.
Who is Boko Haram?
Boko Haram is an Islamic fundamentalist group with aspirations of establishing a state
controlled under sharia law. While the group is most notably active in Nigeria, it has operating
components in Chad, Northern Cameroon and Niger (National Counterterrorism Center). The
initial leader of Boko Haram, Mohammad Yusef (2002) started the sect that became Boko
Haram in central Nigeria. Yusef gained favor with the disenfranchised, a group that is
perceptible to extremism, by condemning corruption and police violence as well as creating a
Muslim religious site and school which attracted families and youths from around the region.
Yusef’s controversial death in 2009 while in police custody, led to his succession by
Abubakar Shekau. Shekau has been the face of this group, which pledged its allegiances to Al
Qaeda before their recent move to align with the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, and has been
the purported leader of the groups violent acts such as the abduction of women and school
children, the mass murdering of villages, and the forced service of captured civilians in their
organization. In 2013 Shekau declared a Caliphate in the areas controlled by the group and was
quoted as saying “We are an Islamic Caliphate. We have nothing to do with Nigera. We do not
know this name.” (Chothia, 2015).
Northern Africa has long has a history of spawning extremist fundamentalist groups, but
Boko Haram seems to have something those before them did not, staying power. A few of the
ways this group has not only attained but held onto their territories and way of rule have been
mass violence, allegiances with other extremist groups (Al Qaeda and ISIS), and the
globalization of society. While Africa is no stranger to horrific loss of life during conflicts, the
availability of information across the globe has brought this group’s actions into the international
spotlight. With the increased information comes an increased ability to combat the group and its
violence, but the same information can also be used as a recruiting tool to those who are
disenfranchised and seeking purpose or those who just want to commit heinous acts.
This group is not only a threat to the Nigerian state but to the world. It draws its willing
followers on the premise of equality and the idea of a just crusade (the establishment of the
Caliphate) while spreading its message through bullets and suicide bombers. It aims to
undermine Western ideals including education and democratic process and “liberate” the people
through sharia law.
Boko Haram is comprised of a few hundred core members. That number does not include
those who may ethnically, financially, or empathetically support the group through various
actions, which some estimate up to potentially 50,000 individuals (Combating Terrorism Center,
2014). While there is a hierarchical chain of command headed by Shekau, it can be difficult to
ascertain complete membership and scope of control as the group does tend to operate in several
autonomous units, each having their own area of expertise (Stratfor Global Intelligence, 2014).
The group also has a separate, decision making body comprised of thirty members known as the
Shura Council. This council is in charge of these various cells and provides instructions to each.
The various cells that operate within Boko Haram have many different specialties. Some
are in control of propaganda and recruitment, others with medical care for the soldiers and their
families. Yet the majority of these cells are involved in the militant, terror aspect of the
organization. Some may be in charge of building bombs for suicide bombings and others
involved with stealing vehicles for those bombings. One way that leaders of this organization
have lasted is by having these groups remain autonomous from each other, most often operating
without knowledge of what other cells may be doing. Covert tactics such as sporadic meetings
and the use of couriers to transmit messages have also aided in the insulation of this groups
Boko Haram is able to fund its ventures through many illicit avenues. Due to deep rooted
corruption in Nigerian government, one way funds are accrued is through donations from
politicians. One key contributor to this is the disparity in economic status between northern and
southern regions of the county. The Nigerian government owns a majority of the oil revenues for
the county (which is one of the largest producers of crude in the world) which leads to power
struggles and corruption, including misallocation of funds and resources, leaving the north far
worse off (United States Embassy-Nigeria, 2012).
Other clandestine criminal acts have also been conducted to finance Boko Haram such as
kidnappings for ransom and bank robbery. The group is estimated to have amassed millions of
dollars from bank robberies and extortions, most notably that of the French government, who
paid Boko Haram nearly seventeen million dollars in 2013.
Other Islamic groups contribute as well. Some such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb
and the World Islamic Call Society have contributed as much as seventy million dollars towards
Boko Haram. Others yet, one example being as Shabaab in Somalia, have provided training to
their militants in the realm of bomb making and general terror tactics.
Who is ISIS?
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, is an extremist fundamental Islamic
group that has carved vast swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq which they have named a
Caliphate. As the Caliphate, they have claimed not only the areas which they control, but the
allegiance of all Muslims worldwide (in theory). This group is also believed to operate in Egypt,
Libya, and Nigeria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has led this group on its violent tear through the
Middle East, their execution of prisoners of Western and Arab states alike, and their capture of
Mosul in Iraq.
This group is not as President Obama has described them, (Al Qaeda’s JV team) rather a
cunning collective who have proven the ability to recruit followers, attain the funding and
resources to survive, and commit some of the most horrifying acts of violence in order to strike
fear in those who support the ideals of the west and the “non-believers” (Wood, 2015).
To understand the scope of ISIS recruitment powers it is as important to see where their
ranks come from as is how they are drawn to the group. In a September, 2014 report ISIS was
believed to be able to amass a fighter force of just over 31,000 individuals. These ranks are
believed to come from Sunni fighters sympathetic to the cause, prisoners freed by the group, its
original membership, and foreign fighters. The number of foreign fighters has been estimated at
15,000, including 2,000 fighters from Western countries (Jim Sciutto, 2014).
A CIA spokesman was attributed as saying the influx in numbers stemmed from the
declaration of a Caliphate, which cause Muslim fighter and those sympathetic to the cause to
flock to arms, battlefield successes by the group, and greater overall activity. This activity has
been documented and even promoted through recruitment videos posted to the internet by the
group. Some of their acts of terror include the beheading of American, James Foley, the killing
of their own soldiers who had thoughts of desertion, the suicide bombings of Shiite mosques in
Yemen, the caging and burning alive of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasabeh, the destruction of
historical sites and documents, and the forcing of children soldiers and the sale of women to its
fighters (The Fiscal Times, 2015).
ISIS is unlike former terrorist organizations in that it needs its territory to survive.
Whereas terrorist groups in the past have been more clandestine and could operate as a network
of autonomous entities, ISIS has a top down structure. Its territories are divided into provinces
and it has separate military and civic branches.
The group has also had unparalleled success in funding their terror state as opposed to
those who came before them. ISIS earns its revenues in many different ways. A few of the more
well documented instances of this are a general tax on the inhabitants of its land, specifically in
Mosul where in order to withdraw personal funds from a bank, one must contribute a donation to
ISIS, the sale of organs on the black market (harvested from battle field victims, ISIS deceased
included), and a massive amount of oil revenues (Scott Bronstein, 2014).
Battlefield victories have placed oil fields in both Iraq and Syria under the control of
ISIS. While the sale of ISIS oil is that of smuggling and selling the product on the black market,
profits have been upwards of two million dollars per day. One key component of this is
geography. Turkey lies on the northern border of Syria and has, up until recently, been a
relatively easy country to smuggle oil into for ISIS members. With prices of gasoline at nearly
eight dollars a gallon in Turkey, wide profit margins followed for “terror crude”. In addition to
the Syrian oil fields, ISIS has control of the Syrian economy, meaning revenues from agriculture
are also sustaining the ISIS coffers.
ISIS has made some very interesting public relations moves as well. One of their
abhorrent practices is using children as soldiers. By putting these soldiers, and new recruits,
through “universities”, or camps where they learn to kill in the name of Islam the Islamic State
has achieved in sending a message. These graduations are not only a shocking display used as a
terror tactic but outline the strength of ISIS. Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project explained this
show of strength by saying “There are two messages being sent by ISIS besides the obvious
shock factor: First, their caliphate is an actual functioning and legitimate state. Second, this is a
long term struggle” (Zimmerman, 2015). Among the skills learned at these camps are lessons in
urban warfare, how to fight in the city (rappel down buildings, fighting in close quarters, etc.) as
well as on the battlefield
Behind the Numbers: Who is the terror recruit?
The numbers are glaring, thousands of militants bent on expanding territory and
advancing their ideology by violent means. More and more flood the ranks of both Boko Haram
and ISIS willingly in addition to the numbers amassed through forced service or coercion. These
willing recruits have shown similar qualities throughout research of the subject and the use of
social media in the technology age has made recruitment of these individuals mush easier for
Those prone to joining terrorist organizations may do so because these groups prey on
their sense of identity. The feeling of belonging is a major component in our humanity, and these
organizations provide this to predominantly young, disenfranchised males. In a report titles
“Foreign fighters in Syria”, Richard Barrett of the Soufan Group wrote, “The general picture
provided by foreign fighters of their lives in Syria suggests camaraderie, good morale and
purposeful activity, all mixed in with a sense of understated heroism, designed to attract their
friends as well as to boost their own self-esteem” (Yan).
Many of the recruits of organizations such as ISIS already have a strong sense of religion
and their duty to either defend, or spread their ideology. That sense of duty has been a direct call
from ISIS to their Western audience using messages such as “You have to join. It is your
religious duty” in their recruitment videos. The idea a holy war also drives recruitment and
Mark Juergensmeyer discusses a “Cosmic War” in his book Terror in the Mind of God.
The characteristics of this war align with the pursuit of the Caliphate desired by these two
groups. This war is seen as larger than life, a true struggle between good and evil. Because these
militants see the world as a struggle between good and evil, the belief in fighting a holy war
justifies their heinous actions. This war is final, for these groups a loss would be unfathomable as
it would mean complete defeat and their actions will be continuous until they succeed or the next
generation does. For the potential recruit this war provides a reason to fight as well as the
potential to die the death of a martyr, or a hero in the eyes of their creed.
The clandestine recruitment aspects of the past have given way to a recruitment platform
that places the messages of ISIS and Boko Haram at the click of a mouse and the change of a
channel. The internet and other various media outlets have made information easy to transmit,
difficult to monitor, and viewable by those of all ages.
ISIS has used propaganda videos to not only shock those who oppose them but to inspire
those who may join them. By referring to ISIS controlled Syria as paradise or showing militants
from foreign countries burning their passports in an act symbolizing their “new home”, ISIS has
executed an almost cult like perception of reality into their recruitment.
Other videos are marketed that show their successes. Videos of their successful terror acts
such as beheadings, burnings, mass executions, etc. have also shown their strength and ability to
defy the civilized world. Another aspect of these videos that makes them successful recruitment
tools is their quality. Compared to other groups, ISIS is way ahead. Their ability to master new
technologies, including social media has enabled them to mass market these videos to all walks
of life and have the flash to keep a viewer engaged (Yan).
ISIS started using social media during the beginning of the civil war in Syria and had
used that platform to build its audience and create the grand stage. As time progressed so did the
groups capabilities with social media. The execution of James Foley was just a warm-up. By the
time ISIS took Mosul the social media propaganda juggernaut had started showing its benefits on
the battle field. The images of brutality and violence caused some of their enemies to flee before
the fighting even took place (Siegel, 2014).
Outside of its violent messages, ISIS has used social media to tout its successes within its
Caliphate’s structure. Much like the use of “graduation pictures”, pictures of administrative
building have been taken to show its audience that ISIS has the ability to govern its territory as
well as defend it. Whereas these images used to be clandestine and passed through jihadist
forums, platforms such as Facebook, which are public in Nature, have provided the perfect
medium for mass distribution. A benefit to having foreign fighters in terms of recruitment is that
in the videos, the message is delivered by somebody who speaks that same language, be it
English, French, Arabic, etc.
Boko Haram has benefitted from media coverage through shock. While direct supporters
of ISIS, Boko Haram does not recruit near the same numbers of core members nor have the same
means. However, the group’s ability to make headlines through gaudy numbers (hundreds
dead/kidnapped at a time) has enabled them to strike fear into their opponents. Their numbers are
amassed through the kidnapping and forced service of both young men and women.
How the World Ends
To the Islamic extremists and fighters of ISIS and Boko Haram, their struggle is a holy
one. They are justified in their actions through their faith, as God was a man of war, so must they
be (Juergensmeyer, 2000). Their struggle is one that will be fought down to the last man, with
the ultimate goal of a society dominated by Sharia law and in opposition of Western ideals. ISIS
particular brand of religious terrorism is one that looks to bring upon the apocalypse, and
culminate their cosmic war.
The question of how to combat these groups and their ideologies must be asked and
answered if we are to bring about an end to this brand of terrorism. There are multiple ways to
combat and end terrorist organizations. These include and are not limited to legal actions being
taken internationally, the use of force to combat terrorism, using legislation to combat terrorism
and taking security measures to prevent the spread of the ideology and the movement of
terrorists abroad (Combs, 2006).
Some of these avenues may be more effective than others. International law will do little
to stop a group such as ISIS because while they act like a functioning state, they have no respect
of an international authority. For example, the Khmer Rouge was a militant group that
committed heinous acts throughout Cambodia while holding the Cambodian seat at the United
Nations. For an ISIS member and their leadership this is not an option. “To send an Ambassador
to the UN is to recognize an authority other than God’s (Wood, 2015).”
The use of legislation and intelligence resources has proven controversial in the realm of
combatting terrorism. While the apprehension of domestic terrorists looking to make the move to
fight in Syria has given vindication to some of these intelligence procedures, others can be
viewed as an invasion of privacy and the rights of the civilian population. This can be seen when
examining the Patriot Act enacted by the United States government post September 11, 2001.
This piece of legislation was made to enhance the electronic surveillance capabilities of the
government but have come at the cost of our citizenry’s liberties. Many view this legislation and
those of its kind as the greater of two evils, as Ben Franklin says “those who would give up
essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The use of security forces to stem terrorist operations has also proven controversial. In
Nigeria, instances have been found of police arresting and holding persons without cause in
order to obtain information and the government has be known to impose curfews and even force
their citizens into physical labor and exercises that are seen as a humiliating form of punishment
for rather non-serious offenses. This leads some to believe that they would rather live under the
control of Boko Haram than an oppressive government that uses power in this way (Chothia,
Maybe the most effective and direct way to combat these two organizations is through
force. While that may be the case there are still limitations to what type of force can be used.
Because the Western World and those who oppose these extremist militant actions are bound by
a morality that ISIS and Boko Haram are not, tactics thus far have been unable to quell these
forces. Where ISIS and Boko Haram see no wrong in causing civilian casualties because we are
all actors in this holy war, those combating them are at a disadvantage because of their
unwillingness to partake in similar efforts.
Another deterrent victory through force has been geography. Outside of known areas of
militants there are autonomous pockets that use the deserts, mountains, and forests of their
regions to cloak themselves and their actions. It is impossible to fight an enemy you cannot find.
There are only so many ends to terrorism. Either all terrorists fall to force and are either dead or
incapacitated, which militants of these organizations are willing to die for the cause and their
numbers increase daily, the terrorists win their struggle and have control, there is a complete
separation of religion (the driving justification for the actions of these groups) from governance,
or secular ideas are used as a healing force within governance and religious governments rule
based upon their ideologies (Juergensmeyer, 2000).
None of the above mentioned outcomes seen likely. It is foolish to think that allied forces
would be able to kill all of the militants are there deaths as “martyrs” would only inspire others
to take up their cause. Their beliefs are so strong that they won’t be frightened into laying down
their arms and they cannot imagine a world where their religious ideology does not govern their
territories. The last remaining outcome seems the most unlikely. Even if secular values were
adopted across governments those secular ideologies would still clash. While every faith has
similarities and an aspect of human morality that should never be violated, these faiths have been
historically waging war against each other since their beginning.
ISIS and Boko Haram are fundamentalist extremist groups that take aim at establishing a
Caliphate in the Middle East and Africa. They have been successful in doing this so far due to
their ability to control land, fund themselves, recruit actively and effectively, and strike fear into
those who oppose them.
These groups have taken advantage of globalization and the ease with which they can
spread their message of jihad to those disenfranchised and looking for a place to belong and
something to fight for. By using the internet and social media, their successes and messages have
been broadcasted to anybody who is near a computer, television, radio or print news medium.
Their numbers swell as does their controlled lands. This has enabled them to finance themselves
through illicit acts such as kidnapping, extortion, the sale of resources on the black market, and
donations from politicians and citizens alike (whether forced or voluntary).
ISIS in particular has established themselves as the true Caliphate and have unified their
supporters under that flag. Their ability to form a functioning state in their territory has shown
strength to their supporters and enemies as well as sent the message that this struggle is not just
that of today, but of tomorrow and all days until they have reached their goal.
In order to defeat these groups, there must be a change in how methods of counter
terrorism are employed, and until that happens the audience to the stage of terror will need to
AfricanBusiness.(2002,November). NIGERIA:Themake-or-breakelections. RetrievedDecember2,
Chothia,F.(2015, January21). Who are Nigeria's Boko HaramIslamists.RetrievedMay1, 2015, from
Combs,C. (2006). Terrorism in the Twenty-FirstCentury. Boston:Pearson.
Crenshaw,M.(2011). Explaining Terrorism. New York City:Routledge.
JimSciutto,J.C. (2014, September12). ISIScan musterbetween 20,000, and 31,500 fighters,CIA says.
RetrievedMay1, 2015, fromCNN:http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/11/world/meast/isis-syria-
Juergensmeyer,M.(2000). Terror in the Mind of God. Los Angeles:Universityof CaliforniaPress.
Kwarteng,C.(1996, April).`Babangidaization'afterBabangida:The Nigerianmilitaryandthe politicsof
incumbency. Round Table,183-205.
National CounterterrorismCenter.(n.d.). TerroristGroups:Boko Haram.RetrievedMay5, 2015, from
Scott Bronstein,D.G. (2014, October7). Self Funded and Deep Rooted,How ISISmakesits Millions.
RetrievedMay1, 2015, fromCNN:http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/06/world/meast/isis-funding/
Siegel,J.(2014, August31). ISISis using social media to reach you,its new audience.RetrievedMay1,
StratforGlobal Intelligence.(2014, July15). Nigeria:Examining Boko Haram.RetrievedMay1, 2015,
fromStratfor Global Intelligence:https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/nigeria-examining-boko-
The Fiscal Times.(2015, March 22). ISISten mostextremeacts of terror. RetrievedMay1, 2015, from
The Fiscal Times:http://finance.yahoo.com/news/isis-10-most-extreme-acts-101500486.html
UnitedStatesEmbassy-Nigeria.(2012, January). Nigeria FactSheet.RetrievedDecember2,2014, from
Wood,G. (2015, March). WhatISISReally Wants.RetrievedMay1, 2015, fromThe Atlantic:
Yan, H. (n.d.). Why is ISISso Good at Luring Westerners? RetrievedMay1, 2015, from CNN:
Zimmerman,M.(2015, March 30). Commencing jihad:ISISpostsphotosof military "graduation".
RetrievedMay1, 2015, fromFox News: