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Boko Haram

This map shows what Africa's deadliest terror group may be planning next

The group’s activities are shifting east and concentrating on border areas.

BOKO HARAM, THE jihadist group, has terrorised northern Nigeria, killed over 6,000 people in 2014 and ransacked over a dozen communities along the the Nigerian side of Lake Chad in mid-January.

This group’s violence is the most ostensible reason for the delay of Nigeria’s upcoming presidential election and Boko Haram threatens to plunge Africa’s most populous country and largest economy – as well as some of its neighbours – into violent chaos.

But Boko Haram is hardly a static organisation. Its area of operation has shifted over the past few years, and it declared an Islamic state in the territory it controls in August 2014.

A Nigerian soldier, center, walks, at the scene of an explosion in Abuja, Nigeria. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Considering the group killed 110 people in 2010 – a considerably smaller number than in recent years – and once seemed to harbour specific ambitions to declare its own Islamic state, it is difficult to predict how the organisation will proceed in the future – especially if Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s incumbent president, is replaced when a presidential vote is held as early as March.

Nigeria Election Delay Controversy Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Davin O’Regan, a researcher at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies and a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, created the following map for the Zurich-based International Relations and Security Network, to show where the group might be headed. He established the geographic mean centre of Boko Haram’s attacks for a given year, then weighted that mean based on the locations of the deadliest attacks (the math behind it all can be found here)

Davin O'Regan Davin O'Regan

Each triangle on the map represents the physical centre of the group’s activities based on both the frequency and severity of its attacks. The ovals represent one standard deviation’s worth of distance from this geographic mean, giving a sense of where Boko Haram was operating in a given year )2012: blue; 2013: red; 2014: yellow).

This method of analysis and the resulting map makes it possible to visualise where and how the group is shifting its deadliest activities – information which may provide a glimpse into its future tactics.

In 2012, Boko Haram committed most of its attacks over a wider area than in subsequent years, and was deadliest in an area well to the west of where it now operates most frequently.

In 2013 and 2014, the geographic mean is appreciably close to Maiduguiri, a major city that Boko Haram attempted to take earlier this month. And in 2014, the oval reaches deep into neighbouring Cameroon.

Nigeria Violence A man sells eggs from a wheelbarrow in Maiduguri, Nigeria. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Today, “a big proportion of the spike in fatalities in Boko Haram attacks is found in a relatively small region along the Cameroon-Nigerian border,” O’Regan told Business Insider. The group also “seems to ‘hug’ borders in general for the operational advantages they provide.

This actually goes against some conventional wisdom, as O’Regan explains, running “contrary to many claims about Boko Haram expanfing its control over vast stretches of territory and dramatically increasing its capabilities”. That’s not exactly what they’re doing. Instead, the group is moving towards the border.

“Despite Boko Haram’s growing lethiality and tactical sophistication, the group appears to be concentrating larger proportions of its resources in Nigeria’s more remote border areas,” O’Regan said.

The group’s activities are shifting east, towards the border with Cameroon, which is increasingly involved in the fighting against the group. Boko Haram is operating in a more remote and perhaps more limiter area. But it’s also turning into a trans-national threat, posing a problem that isn’t confined just to Nigeria.

- Armin Rosen.

Read: Boko Haram leader taunts African kings: “I challenge you to attack me now”>

Read: Boko Haram kidnap 60 people, mostly women and children, in cross-border attack>

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