Family, friends recruit fighters to Boko Haram, new study reveals

A new study has revealed that members of Nigeria’s extremist group Boko Haram are most often recruited by friends and family, and not members of mosques and madrasas, as has been largely thought.

Conducted in December 2015, the study saw 119 former Boko Haram fighters being interviewed by operatives from Finn Church Aid (FCA), The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), The Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Citizen Research Centre.

In addition, researchers interviewed 60 representatives from Nigerian civil society organisations in order to give the study context while analysing the experiences shared by respondents.

The results of the study provided startling new insights into the structure of the Islamist sect, with data revealing that women played a bigger role in the Boko Haram society than was previously considered.

Within the organisation, both men and women provided domestic support services, with the the research sample showing that women even surpassed their male counterparts as recruiters (12 and seven) and as intelligence operatives (eight and six).

Practices of recruiters

“This large role of women in Boko Haram was one of the most surprising results we got. For example, in Al Shabaab women basically do not have an active role at all,” said Mahdi Abdile, Director of Research at FCA and at the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and the co-author of the study.

Contrary to common misconceptions, only 27% of respondents admitted to being introduced into the sect at mosques, with over 60% saying that family, friends and acquaintances had connected them to the terrorist group.

“In the pre-9/11 world, mosques and madrasas used to be the place to get new recruits. Today that has changed”, Abdile said.

“The results of this study highlight the fact that recruiters are adaptive to the tightening security environment, and more than ever before, that women and young girls are increasingly being targeted for recruitment,” she said.

The study has also revealed the reasons behind civilians wanting to join the organisation.

At least 57% of former Boko Haram fighters identified the desire for revenge as having a strong influence on their decision to join, or being the only reason for it, with 43% of former fighters indicating that religion had a strong influence on their decision to join the group.

At least 23.5% of Boko Haram respondents said they had joined Boko Haram to be respected and feared, while a further 17% stated a need to belong.

“Former fighters described a feeling of fear in Boko Haram when being a member and after leaving the group. This fear should be countered by reintegrating former Boko Haram fighters into society, and by involving local communities in helping individuals to feel like a part of a strong community,” the study concluded.

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