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Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Target Nigeria’s Highways

A rise in highway ambushes by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa pose a growing threat of isolation for Borno State’s 4 million residents.

  • Violent events linked to Boko Haram and its offshoot the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) on Borno State’s main roadways have spiked almost sixfold (to 67 episodes) in the past year. Reported fatalities linked to highway attacks rose more than fourfold during this time (to 259 deaths).

Militant Islamist Group Highway Attacks in and around Borno State

  • Highway attacks now represent 13 percent of the violent events linked to Boko Haram and ISWA in Borno State. Violent incidents during these highway attacks include robbery, abduction, burning vehicles, and summary execution. Reports suggest that 90 percent of the militants’ abductions in 2020 came from such highway events. Robberies also provide a significant source of revenue and military supplies for the militants.
Highway Attacks by Boko Haram and ISWA in Borno State
Reported Fatalities Linked to Boko Haram and ISWA Highway Attacks in Borno State

Data source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, years ending September 30.

  • The actual number of highway attacks is likely higher. As these episodes have grown more common, many of the ambushes on military and civilian vehicles go unreported. Even civilian convoys under military escort are targeted. Similar attacks have been noted just over the border in Cameroon, albeit on a smaller scale.
  • Via their attacks on key supply routes, the militants have effectively laid siege to Borno State and its capital, Maiduguri. Food prices, already rising due to the effects of the COVID pandemic, have spiked by more than 50 percent over their year-on-year levels in Borno and the surrounding conflict-affected region. The unabated threat of militant attacks, furthermore, has inhibited local crop production that could help meet the food needs the region. Some 4.3 million people in Borno and its neighbor states are experiencing a food crisis or emergency, many of whom depend on food assistance that arrives by road.

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