Boko Haram claimed responsibility Tuesday for abducting more than 300 boys from a secondary school in northwest Nigeria, marking a striking leap from the extremist group’s usual area of operation and a chilling expansion of Islamist militancy in West Africa.
Hundreds of gunmen surrounded the boarding school in Katsina state on Friday and opened fire in a community that had never known such violence, witnesses said, before dragging the students deep into the woods.
The mass kidnapping shocked the continent’s most populous country as deaths from a multifront conflict in the region soar. West Africa is home to the fastest-growing Islamist insurgencies in the world, conflict researchers say, with unrest by disparate forces gripping Nigeria and three of its regional neighbors: Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Boko Haram has killed at least 36,000 people and displaced millions over the past decade, but the campaign of terrorism has rarely stretched far from its stronghold in the Lake Chad Basin. The assault in the town of Kankara, however, signaled that the fighters’ murderous reach has shifted nearly 500 miles west, endangering peace in new territory.
The extremist footprint is growing five years after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated.” Yet analysts warn that the group is plotting moves to show its strength on the global stage and wrest more of the nation from the state’s control.
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