Attacks by Boko Haram challenge Nigeria's claim of 'winning the war'

The Islamist militant group has hit the major city of Maiduguri twice in the past two days. 

Stringer/Reuters
Maiduguri, a major city in Nigeria's northeast, was struck by Boko Haram militants not long after President Buhari said the government had 'technically' won the war against the group.

Boko Haram Islamic militants have struck the northeastern city of Maiduguri twice in the past two days, less than a week after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared that his military had “technically won the war" against Boko Haram.

A female suicide bomber blew herself up while standing in line to enter a mosque on Monday, killing one person, according to the BBC.  The attack comes a day after Boko Haram deployed multiple suicide bombers and militants using rocket-propelled grenades in neighboring towns. The Associated Press puts the death toll from that incident at 30, but says it may be ”many times higher.” 

The Nigerian Army claimed to have intercepted and engaged with some of the suicide bombers, killing 10 of them. “The troops laid ambush on the terrorists’ suspected routes along Damboa road and eliminated them,” Col. Mustapha Anka, an Army spokesman, said in a statement late Sunday. “The explosive-ordnance device team have been mobilized and they are clearing the debris.”

It is unclear if the attacks are a direct response to President Buhari’s claim last week that the Nigerian Army was beating Boko Haram. Since Buhari took office in May, the military has made significant headway in curbing the insurgency, and pushing the Islamist group – under the name Islamic State in West Africa Province – further into Nigeria's Sambisa Forest.

"So I think technically we have won the war because people are going back into their neighborhoods,” he told the BBC. Boko Haram as an organised fighting force, I assure you, that we have dealt with them."

But as seen in both the Sunday and Monday attacks, Boko Haram has increasingly used suicide bombers to target civilians, a  strategy that the Nigerian military says shows the group’s desperation. Militants, according to a Council on Foreign Relations analysis, have also become more strategic with their targets, focusing on major cities like the capital, Abuja; Maiduguri, which serves as the headquarters of the counterinsurgency effort and the birthplace of Boko Haram; and even refugee camps.

“The blasts are among those that would be the last in this issue,” Chief of Army Staff Gen. Tukur Buruta said at a conference in September, as The Christian Science Monitor reported.  “We will start counting very few before we get to the end of this [campaign].”

However, Boko Haram remains vigilant. The self-declared Islamic State, with whom Boko Haram is affiliated, claimed earlier this month that its West Africa division had launched more than 100 attacks over the past two months, the Site Intelligence Group, with monitors extremist websites, reported. They also claimed to have killed more than a thousand people, which is difficult to confirm.

Boko Haram has been labeled the world's deadliest terrorist group.

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