The Islamist group Boko Haram is reported to have seized the town of Banki on September 3rd, continuing their rapid advance across Nigeria.

In a report released by the Nigeria Security Network (NSN), they warned, “Nigeria could be facing a rapid takeover of a large area of its territory reminiscent of ISIS’s lightning advances in Iraq.”

Boko Haram had previously been known to conduct small hit-and-run assaults outside of their hideouts in Sambisa and the Mandara Mountains. But since July 2014 they have begun seizing and holding territory, operating more like a conventional army.

Tactics employed by the insurgents include direct confrontation with military forces, the use of armoured vehicles and heavy weapons and the destruction of key strategic bridges and town links.

The NSN said, the insurgents have “seized a string of villages and towns” and have begun making advances on the Borno State capital, Maiduguri. Similar to ISIS in Iraq, they are reported to be imposing their interpretation of sharia law on the population and have been accused of beheading Christians and carrying out other atrocities in the affected areas.

The report claims that if insurgents seize Maiduguri it will be, “a symbolic and strategic victory unparalleled so far in the conflict.” It is likely that this will lead to almost the entire state falling under the insurgency’s control and would be accompanied by a major humanitarian crisis.

Due to inadequate equipment the Nigerian military is struggling to stop Boko Haram and during their advance in the northeast, insurgents have faced little opposition.

Who are Boko Haram?

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group that aggressively opposes the Westernization of Nigerian society and their name, Boko Haram, is derived from the local Hausa language to mean, “Western education is a sin”. Their goal is to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria.

They were founded as a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist sect advocating a strict form of sharia law. On 22 May 2014 the United Nations Security Council officially declared them a terrorist group affiliated to Al-Qaeda. Since July 2009 they are known to have killed more than 5,000 civilians.

The group was subject to global media coverage in April 2014 following the kidnapping of 276 female students from Chibok, Borno. 50 of them escaped but the remainder are still in captivity. Experts believe their intention is to sell the girls into slavery.