RENO, Nevada — The world watched in horror as Islamic militants slaughtered 17 people in Paris the week of January 5. That same week, some estimates that up to 2,000 people were killed by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in the Nigerian town of Baga surfaced.
Yet the Paris attacks largely dominated news headlines for the next week and a half, drowning out the supposedly much more deadly Boko Haram attacks.
Why could this be? Is it possible that U.S. news consumers sympathize more with Western Europeans, or that we have become desensitized to ongoing deadly conflicts in Africa and the Middle East?
A recent BBC story suggests that more likely, major news sources have been reluctant to report on Boko Haram because accurate news reports on the Islamic group are difficult to verify.
In the case of the Baga attack, estimates of casualties range from 150–2000. According to the BBC, military spokesmen and government officials in Nigeria, often a primary source of information for journalists, were largely silent or not returning calls the first few days after the attack. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan issued a statement condemning the Paris attacks, but made no mention of the deadly massacres within his own country.
According to the BBC, witnesses are similarly unreliable sources of information. In the midst of a violent conflict, most are concerned more about their own safety rather than providing an accurate news report.
To further complicate matters, mobile phone connections in Baga have been down for many months, after jihadists attacked mobile phone towers in northeastern Nigeria.
Nevertheless, reports from officials outside of Nigeria continue to be released.
In particular, Cameroonian officials have reported that during the weekend of Jan. 17-18, Boko Haram infiltrated several villages in northern Cameroon, kidnapping up to 30 adults and 50 children. Although nearly a quarter of hostages were reportedly released shortly thereafter, the abductions raise concerns that the group may be expanding its range of attacks outside of Nigeria.
Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” has been responsible for thousands of civilian kidnappings and deaths in Nigeria since launching its insurgency in 2009. The group seeks to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic State in which Western influence over voting, clothing style, and secular education is eradicated.
Although experts reporting to the BBC say that Northern Nigeria has a history of Islamic uprisings, they note that Boko Haram has proved to be much more resilient and deadly than most.
– Katrina Beedy
Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3
Photo: Today Online