World Bulletin/News Desk
With an estimated 9,000 killed and nearly 1.5 million displaced, 2014 is considered the bloodiest year of Boko Haram's five-year insurgency.
Underscoring the severity of militant attacks this year, Nigeria Security Network, an NGO specialized in tracking casualties, said over 940 people had been killed in insurgent attacks in November alone.
According to the group, May was the bloodiest month, with an estimated death toll of over 4,000 people.
At least 17 people were reportedly killed Monday when an explosive device at a popular bus park exploded in Nigeria's northeastern Gombe State.
"We counted at least 17 people before security and emergency responders cordoned off Dukku Park, where the blast occurred this morning," Ismaila Baba, a civil servant who narrowly escaped the blast, told The Anadolu Agency by phone.
He said a few people had also been injured.
A police officer confirmed that "the incident happened at Dukku Park, which connects many places."
Gombe State in recent months has been largely immune to the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the country's northeast, with militants only occasionally staging deadly attacks on selected towns in the state.
Boko Haram started as a religious group in Maiduguri, provincial capital of the northeastern Borno State, in late 2003 by one Mohammed Yusuf, a local cleric.
It was initially referred to by two names, either Jama'atu Ahlu Sunnah li-da'wati wal-jihad or the Yusufiyah Movement.
Within a few years, the group had grown in size and outreach as it extended its activities – mostly preaching and pursuing small-scale economic ventures – to other northern states.
At the peak of its missionary activities, hordes of people would travel from different parts of the north to Maiduguri to listen to Yusuf's sermons.
On July 27, 2009, group loyalists attacked a police station following a crackdown on the group members for alleged breach of law and order.
The attack left over 300 people dead.
The killing of Yusuf himself three days later while in police custody marked the beginning of the group's embrace of violence.
Analysts like to point out, however, that unprovoked attacks by the group began only after Abubakar Shekau – until then a little known second-in-command to the slain cleric – assumed leadership of the group.
Since then, the group has carried out numerous attacks on communities, particularly in the three northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, with occasional attacks in federal capital Abuja, northwestern Kano city and other northern states.
But 2014 has been the bloodiest year of the insurgency yet, with increasing attacks, higher casualty figures, a deluge of displaced persons and the capture of towns and villages.
"Almost every day in 2014 was marred by deadly attack by Boko Haram, unlike previous years," Alhaji Yusuf Hassan, a local chief who witnessed the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency in Maiduguri in 2009.
"The insurgents started abducting teenagers and conscripting young men as foot soldiers this year," Hassan said. "We didn't have all these terrible things back in 2009."
According to tallies by AA correspondents, at least 7,000 people were killed in Boko Haram attacks between January and June alone – a figure that far exceeds total casualties for 2013 and is higher than all previous years.
The first Boko Haram attack of 2014 occurred in Maiduguri on January 14 when a car laden with explosives rammed into a crowded area, killing at least 43 people.
Five days later, insurgents struck a remote community in Alagarno in southern Borno State, killing 18.
Militants killed over 85 people in various mosques in Konduga, some 35km from Maiduguri, on January 20; and over 130 worshippers were killed in a church at Waga Chakawa, a community in neighboring Adamawa State, on January 30.
Over 1,000 people were killed between February and March of this year, while the military claimed to have killed more than 600 Boko Haram militants in an assault on the group's notorious "Sambisa" hideout on March 9.
But Boko Haram upped the ante on April 14 when it abducted at least 276 schoolgirls from a government secondary school in Chibok town in southern Borno State.
Earlier the same day, an estimated 106 people were killed in a massive blast at a crowded bus park in an Abuja suburb.
The two events were probably the worst of 2014, according to Father Gideon Obasogie, director of social communications at the Catholic Church's Maiduguri Diocese.
"There had been isolated, probably unreported, cases of kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram in previous years, but never have such dastardly acts – involving such large numbers of teenagers – been committed until April this year," the cleric told AA, adding that the insurgency had grown worse in 2014.
The daring mass abduction made international news.
Shekau later claimed responsibility for the abductions, offering to trade the kidnapped girls for detained Boko Haram militants held by the Nigerian authorities.
At least 57 of the girls subsequently managed to escape their captors. The fate of those still in captivity, however, remains unknown.
Government efforts to rescue the girls, including reported backdoor negotiations with the militant group, have failed to produce results, fuelling further popular frustration and anger.
Only last week, at least 200 people were abducted in Borno – and have not been heard of since – while over 34 people were killed.
At least 13 farming communities in the hilly Gwoza area some 190km south of Maiduguri were raided and torched by insurgents in May, leading to the death of over 230 people, Senator Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South in the Nigerian Upper Parliament, told AA, adding that more than 12,000 people had been displaced.
Not even the excitement of the World Cup deterred Boko Haram from carrying out attacks in June, when at least 61 football fans were killed in separate bomb attacks on viewing centers in Mubi, Adamawa, Damaturu and Yobe states, all of which were claimed by Boko Haram.
"Boko Haram became more daring, deadlier and somehow unstoppable during the year," Bulama Mali Gubio, a spokesman for the Borno Elders Forum, told AA.
He blamed the escalation in violence on the Nigerian authorities' "poor handling of the insurgency."
"The Federal Government isn't doing enough," Gubio insisted.
Joe Duku, a Damaturu-based journalist, recalled that the killing of 42 students at a Yobe school on July 6 and 40 others on September 29 had been 2013's worst Boko Haram attacks.
"But even these cannot be compared to the various deadly attacks and killings in 2014, including the November 28 Kano mosque bombing," he told AA.
More than 120 Muslim worshippers observing Friday prayers were killed when two suicide bombers struck a major mosque in the center of Kano.
While farmers in the northeast were preparing for the planting season in early July, Boko Haram struck again, sacking dozens of communities across 12 local government areas in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
The insurgents raided Damboa, 85km from Maiduguri, in July and captured the town in August and for the first time.
"Boko Haram has metamorphosed from its hit-and-run approach in previous years to more daring attacks and capturing territory," asserted Duku, the Damaturu-based journalist.
"No territory was ever captured in previous years," he noted.
Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency estimates the number of people displaced by the insurgency in 2014 at over 800,000.
UNHCR Representative for Nigeria Angeles Dikongue-Attanga said last week that the number of Nigerians taking refuge at various International Displaced Persons camps had increased to 1.5 million in 2014.
The official blamed mounting Boko Haram attacks in the northeast for turning Nigerians into refugees.
Most schools in the northern region have been shut down by the authorities, forcing millions of young people to halt their education.
Recent statistics by the Coalition of Civil Society Groups of Nigeria suggested that over 800 school buildings had been destroyed and 194,664 students affected by the insurgency in the northeast.
With general elections two months away, many Nigerians fear more Boko Haram attacks.
Many politicians in the northeast are doubtful that elections can be held in the area, despite reassurances to this effect by President Goodluck Jonathan and the military.
"It is rather insensitive to continue to talk about elections," Borno Governor Kashim Shettima told a private television station a few days ago.
"In Borno alone, more than two million people have been internally displaced, while thousands have been killed this year alone," he said.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Olajide Laleye, for his part, said the military would use whatever means available to end the insurgency.
"There is no doubt Boko Haram has had its finest moment in the outgoing year," Abubakar Mu'azu, an expert on Boko Haram, told AA.
"Unless the military stops playing defense, we may not see the end of this crisis anytime soon," he warned.
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