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

03 October 2016, 17:50

Abuja - A new study has revealed that members of Nigerian extremist organization Boko Haram are most often recruited by friends and family and not members of mosques and madrasas, as was previously 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 organizations in order to give the study context while analyzing the experiences shared by respondents.

"We always aim for primary source research. Without real first-hand information it is impossible to understand the complexity of the situation, or plan prevention or reintegration initiatives," says Antti Pentikäinen, Executive Director of The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

"This research reinforces the key role of religious leaders in defusing religious tensions and preventing radicalisation. As influencers and role models they can prevent manipulation and misinterpretation of religion by violent extremists. We believe it is crucial that religious leaders are equipped with skills in interreligious dialogue and understanding," stresses Fahad Abualnasr, KAICIID Director General.

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

Within the organization, both men and women provide 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).

"This large role of women in Boko Haram was one of the most surprising results we got. For example, in Al Shabab women basically do not have an active role at all," Mahdi Abdile says.

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

"In the pre-9/11 world, mosques and madrasas used to be the place to get new recruits. Today that has changed”, says Mahdi Abdile, Director of Research at FCA and at the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and the co-author of the study.

"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."

In addition to providing insight into the practices of recruiters, the study has also revealed the reasons behind civilians wanting to join the organization.

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 indicated that religion had a strong influence on their decision to join the group.

23.5% of Boko Haram respondents told 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 concludes.

- News24


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