Not content with causing major instability with deadly attacks and mass kidnappings, Boko Haram is targeting the World Cup. Viewing centers set up in northeastern Nigeria have canceled screenings of Nigerian World Cup matches after Boko Haram threatened to bomb them.
The government of states in northeast Nigeria, particularly Adamawa and Borno, have said that the threat of creating such an appealing target for Boko Haram as a large congregation of people watching soccer could cause needless risk in an already unstable environment. Local military reportedly told the government the groups were targets, and “based on this advice, we have directed all soccer viewing centres across the state to close down indefinitely,” said government spokesman Ahmed Sajo.
Nigerian soccer has a strong following, and many fans relied on the viewing centers to be able to see the tournament. Responding to the disillusion, Brigadier-General Nicholas Rogers said Wednesday that the decision to close down viewings “is not to stop Nigerians… watching the World Cup. It is to protect their lives.”
Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group whose name means ‘Western Education is Forbidden,” has been in the crosshairs of the Nigerian government for years, but in recent months has becoming an increasingly menacing presence in the country and on the borders with Cameroon and Niger. In Cameroon, Boko Haram has damaged a number of tourist-attracting towns which, thanks to the threat of Boko Haram attacks, have lost substantial revenue.
Making headlines internationally for the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, Borno, President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed “total war” on the group. The mission against Boko Haram has been severely compromised by the group infiltrating Nigerian law enforcement, however, such that information as to the leadership’s whereabouts reaches the police too late, while news of police operations reaches Boko Haram too soon. While Nigerian security forces have been working to find the girls, Boko Haram have kidnapped 20 more in the same area, as well as conducted bombings both in Borno and in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
In early June, Boko Haram targeted a soccer stadium. Forty people died in a bombing in Adamawa province after Boko Haram targeted a soccer stadium and nearby bar and brothel. The bombing appears to have targeted fans as the game ended and they exited the stadium, and the victims included women and children attending the game.
The Nigerian national soccer team plays its first World Cup match on Monday in Brazil against Iran.