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Dec

WITH the world’s attention focused on the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, there was a flurry of debate about how much more media coverage France had received than Beirut, where, a day earlier, suicide bombers sent by the Islamic State killed 43 people. In Nigeria, we expect most terrorist attacks to go unnoticed by the world.

Considering the global attention paid to the Islamic State, you would not guess that Boko Haram is actually the world’s deadliest terrorist organization, according to the Global Terrorism Index. While the Islamic State operates in an oil-rich region and directly threatens the West, Boko Haram’s brutality remains largely confined to remote, sparsely populated parts of Nigeria. The group has reinforced this isolation by attacking telecommunications towers.

At the turn of the year, the group occupied territory estimated to be the size of Belgium. In March, its leader, Abubakar Shekau, released an audio message, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. But he has not appeared in public since then, fueling speculation that he is dead or incapacitated. And Boko Haram has been pushed on the defensive, pummeled by a coalition of troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, briefly supported by mercenaries from South Africa and the former Soviet Union.

In August, I visited Yola — home to at least three camps for internally displaced persons, as Boko Haram’s refugees are known. The Yola I encountered was actually a less beleaguered place than it had been a year earlier, when Boko Haram fighters were virtually knocking on its doors, having overrun a string of nearby towns.

In Maiduguri, about 250 miles away, where Boko Haram first burst onto the national scene in a bloody uprising six years ago, the airport reopened to commercial flights in July, after being closed for about 18 months. The city’s public secondary schools, shuttered since early 2014, started reopening in October.

While Boko Haram may have been weakened, it has yet to lose its capacity to sow terror. The suicide bomb attacks — some carried out by young girls, not even teenagers — now blur with surreal intensity into one another. Many attacks go unclaimed; everyone assumes it’s Boko Haram, as usual. Read more…

Published in the New York Times on Dec. 2nd, 2015

Tolu Ogunlesi is the West Africa editor for The Africa Report and the author, most recently, of the novella “Conquest and Conviviality.”

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