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In the wake of the April kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram, fearsome images of the militants—in army fatigues and turbans, brandishing automatic weapons and rounds of ammo—have been splashed over the front pages of the international press. But the Al Qaeda-linked group has been slaughtering Nigerians by the hundreds since 2009. They’ve also kidnapped scores of women and children and attacked dozens of schools over the past year, with little attention from the Western media. Why did the foreign press decide to start paying attention now?
Part of the reason is the sheer scale of the kidnapping. According to the latest numbers, nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted on April 15 from Chibok boarding school in the northern Nigerian state of Borno. Last year, Boko Haram abducted handfuls of children, as well as Christian women, whom the group converts to Islam and forces into marriage. The group attacked 50 schools last year too, killing more than 100 schoolchildren and 70 teachers. The number of kids taken during the raid on the Chibok school is staggering, however. “It is the largest number of children abducted in one swoop in the country,” says Nnamdi Obasi, a senior Nigeria analyst for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit conflict resolution organization. “Certainly not a minor incident that could be ignored.”
But it’s not just the shock value of the Chibok school attack that’s put a recent spotlight on Boko Haram. The group has terrorized the country on this scale before, having killed thousands over the past five years. In November 2011, the militants attacked police facilities in the northern state of Yobe, killing 150. That year, the group also carried out a brazen attack on the UN compound in the capital city of Abuja. In January 2012, coordinated bombings by the Islamist militants in the city of Kano killed about 150. And in July of that year, the group attacked multiple Christian villages in the north, killing more than 100. Those attacks prompted obligatory reports by the likes of the New York Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, and the BBC.
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