TIME Islamist Extremism

Inside ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Battle for Brand Supremacy

They may share similar goals but the two groups are bitter rivals

Four days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 17 people, a video surfaced online showing one of the gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, pledging allegiance in broken Arabic to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Earlier that week, another assailant, Chérif Kouachi, in a telephone interview to French television claimed allegiance to a different jihadist group: al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “We acted a bit together and a bit separately,” he said. Kouachi was later killed by police.

With an investigation of the attacks still ongoing, it remains unclear how closely the gunmen actually coordinated with the two terrorist organizations or between themselves. But the episode offers a glimpse of new undercurrents fueling Islamic terrorism: al-Qaeda is no longer the key player when it comes to Islamist terrorism against the West. Instead, multiple jihadi groups cooperate, and at times compete with one another.

That transformation is in full display with the recent successes of ISIS, which have re-invigorated jihadist movements worldwide, explained Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “ISIS is only spurring the race toward violent jihad,” she said.

One of the key forces fueling this revival is ISIS’s head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a native Iraqi with a PhD in Islamic Studies and the track record of an ambitious leader.

Unlike heads of other al-Qaeda’s main affiliates who climbed the ladders of the group’s central leadership, al-Baghdadi rose in the ranks of one of its offshoots, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and doesn’t have a direct, personal relationship with the rest of the network.

In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced that he was extending his group’s activities from Iraq into Syria. To reflect the change, he renamed al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS.

The move reportedly took al-Qaeda’s head by surprise. In 2014, the group formally dissociated itself from its affiliate in Iraq and Syria, culminating years of feuding between the two organizations. ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group … does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,” al-Qaeda’s general command said in a statement.

The extent of the break’s shockwave is yet to be fully measured. But from the sidelines, observers have taken note of the new balance of power.

Recent signs of the tug-of-war include reports of ISIS militants trying to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan and of the arrest of three of its agents in late January — effectively tip-toeing on al-Qaeda’s home turf.

“The Islamic State is a competitor in leading the global jihad and it is currently winning the race,” said William McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Some groups, from Northern Africa to South-east Asia, have since rallied behind the winning horse.

For instance, in September, an armed group calling itself the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria, previously affiliated with al-Qaeda’s North African branch, split from al-Qaeda’s core command and swore loyalty to ISIS, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors terrorist activity online.

In October, senior members of the Pakistani Taliban vowed allegiance to the Islamic State. While the six men didn’t speak for the Pakistani Taliban, the announcement further underscores divisions among militant Islamist groups as ISIS rises.

In all, 18 organizations expressed support and/or allegiance to ISIS, according to an analysis provided by al-Qaeda expert Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, deputy director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy and adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

Beyond the Arab world, another organization has had a complicated relationship with al-Qaeda and ISIS: Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad, better known as Boko Haram. The group is behind a deadly suicide attack on a United Nations building in Abuja in 2011, the killing of thousands of people, including hundreds of students, and the kidnapping of at least 800 women and children in the past year alone.

While there is evidence that Boko Haram received training and support from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Nigerian group is increasingly aligning itself with ISIS. Drawn by its numerous successes, Boko Haram has adopted the ISIS flag in videos and started to mirror ISIS’ language in statements, said Amy Pate, the research director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

“Boko Haram is going after status,” Pate said. “As ISIS remains the hot brand within the Islamic jihadi movement, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boko Haram continued to use supportive rhetoric and align itself more and more with ISIS as opposed to al-Qaeda.”

A month after ISIS declared its caliphate, Boko Haram also appeared to mirror the group’s land-grabbing tactics in Northern Nigeria, said Jacob Zenn, an African affairs analyst for the D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation.

Now, Boko Haram controls an area just over 30,000 square kilometers of territory, about the size of West Virginia.

But it’s premature to speak of a formal link between ISIS and Boko Haram.

“We see a clear copying,” said Zenn. “The big question remains as whether this is messaging or signaling or whether there are intermediaries between the two groups.”

Yet, despite ISIS’ growing appeal, the major branches of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa have remained in the ranks.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considered the most dangerous affiliate and has the closest relationship with the original al-Qaeda.

The two have overlapping hierarchies: AQAP’s leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was recently appointed to serve as al-Qaeda’s general manager, an important position that effectively makes him No.2 of the organization.

Al-Wuhayshi and al-Qaeda’s current head Ayman al-Zawahiri go way back. Al-Wuhayshi was Osama bin Laden’s personal aide in Afghanistan from the late 1990s until after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, at a time al-Zawahiri was also part of bin Laden’s inner circle.

In the rift between ISIS and al-Qaeda, AQAP has sided with the latter, arguing in online videos that al-Baghdadi’s declaration of an Islamic caliphate was illegitimate.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, another of al-Qaeda’s main affiliates, has for its part refrained from recognizing ISIS as legitimate. The group’s leadership, based in desert areas of Algeria, is also part of the network that trained in Afghanistan.

Blood kins
Despite clear antagonisms when it comes to strategy, al-Qaeda and ISIS can be thought of as ideological siblings.

“The disagreement between the two is over what the group should be doing to bring about the caliphate: the tactics and strategies,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Zimmerman said. “ISIS and al-Qaeda both want global jihad, but the way they go about it is very different.”

While al-Qaeda’s strategy under Osama bin Laden focused on preaching its form of Islam and toppling regimes aligned with the West before trying to establish a caliphate, ISIS believes in simultaneously establishing a state — a strategy first championed by al-Qaeda in Iraq’s deceased ideologue, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said Zimmerman.

It is those competing visions that may separate the two in the long run.

What has been ISIS’ success — its ability to conquer and control territory — could be the source of its demise as the group will have to defend its territorial conquests, explained al-Qaeda expert Mohamedou.

“ISIS wants to be a global entity, but it’s very much locally grounded,” Mohamedou explained. “The territory they hold is their strength because they extract resources, but territory is where you can be found and where you can be targeted — that is strategically a more difficult position to hold.”

TIME Nigeria

Delaying Nigeria’s Elections May Benefit Boko Haram More Than Democracy

A shoe-mender works near a poster campaigning for Jimi Agbaje, along a road in the Ikeja district in Lagos
Akintunde Akinleye—Reuters A shoe-mender works near a poster campaigning for frontline contender and Lagos governorship candidate for the People's Democratic Party (PDP) Jimi Agbaje, along a road in the Ikeja district in Lagos, Nigeria on Feb. 3, 2015.

Nigeria's election body raised concerns that the country may not be ready for elections planned for Feb. 14

Over the past five years, an insurgency led by the Islamist Boko Haram group has driven 1.6 million Nigerians from their homes in the country’s northeast. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is only now starting to voice concern about how those citizens will vote in upcoming presidential elections, slated for Feb. 14. Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is facing a strong challenge from former general Muhammadu Buhari.

On Feb. 4, just 10 days before the start of polling, INEC commissioner Amina Zachary told Reuters that the elections may have to be delayed over fears that not enough registered voters would actually be able to cast ballots. At issue is the requirement that citizens vote where they are registered — difficult enough when Boko Haram threatens to launch squads of suicide bombers across the region in the run-up to the election; impossible when your hometown is under militant occupation, as 20 out of 27 local governorships are in the three northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

The commission is also worried about the slow rollout of its anti-fraud system. Each voter must have a Permanent Voter Card (PVC) in order to cast a ballot. The cards are digitally embedded with the voter’s fingerprint and can be read by a small battery-powered scanner. If the voter’s fingerprint doesn’t match the information on the card, he or she won’t be issued a ballot. This is designed to prevent accusations of ballot-box stuffing that have marred past elections.

But the problem is that not all voters have their cards yet. Only 44 million out of 68.8 million registered voters have received their cards, according to INEC, many of them in areas plagued by insurgency. In theory, would-be voters can pick up their cards at government offices, but not if fighting shuts those offices down. INEC has extended the deadline for picking up voter cards to Feb. 8, but if the number of cards distributed by then is too low, the commission may decide to postpone the vote. “Let’s see how the PVC distribution goes,” Zachary told Reuters. “Then maybe.”

It’s not just INEC that is concerned. In January, President Jonathan’s national security adviser Sambo Dasuki also suggested that the vote be delayed, for the same reason. And on Feb. 3, about 100 protesters stormed INEC headquarters, brandishing placards demanding a delay. “INEC, do the right thing,” they chanted. “We demand for the extension of election to allow Nigerian exercise their franchise.”

Never one to pass up a good conspiracy story, Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper posited that the protesters, and Dasuki, may have been put up by Jonathan supporters who feel that their candidate might benefit from a longer campaign season. An Afrobarometer opinion poll released on Jan. 27 indicates that the election is too close to call, a sharp change in fortunes for Jonathan, who was considered a clear front runner as recently as early January, when campaigning started in earnest.

But if Boko Haram continues with its campaign of deadly bombings — a female suicide blew herself up in the northeastern state of Gombe on Feb. 2 — a delay in elections might actually harm Jonathan’s chances. Jonathan’s record on fighting Boko Haram is weak, and Buhari has made security the cornerstone of his campaign. In the end, delaying the elections could end up benefitting Boko Haram the most. More debate on who should be the next President means less attention on what should be done about militancy.

— Additional reporting by Naina Bajekal

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in January, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world spanning five continents, including Pete Muller‘s powerful work shot in the Ebola-ridden Sierra Leone. His two sets of photographs, featured below, were made on assignment for National Geographic, and are the first two in a four-part series examining the epidemic in West Africa. Muller’s pictures document the battle fought by medical workers, body collectors, and burial teams to bring the crisis ravaging Freetown and the country, under control. The story and images from the city’s King Tom cemetery are particularly harrowing; in just a few months, it has been expanded to three times its former size and the large number of fresh burial mounds make it look more like a construction site than a typical graveyard.

Pete Muller: How Ebola Found Fertile Ground in Sierra Leone’s Chaotic Capital | How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions (National Geographic News)

Uriel Sinai: In Africa, Mosquito Nets Are Putting Fish at Risk (The New York Times) These stunning photographs by Uriel Sinai from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, show how mosquito nets meant for Malaria protection have ended up being widely used in fishing, since they are cheaper than actual fishing nets and can be even more effective, especially in shallow waters.

Andy Spyra: The enemy within: Boko Haram’s reign of terror across Northern Nigeria | The enemy within: A closer look at survivors of Boko Haram attacks across Northern Nigeria (The Washington Post In Sight) The German photographer has spent more than three years documenting the northern Nigeria. His pictures provide a rare view into communities under Boko Haram’s terror.

Mosa’ab Elshamy: Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt (TIME LightBox) These excellent photographs capture spiritual celebrations within Egyptian Sufism.

Manu Brabo: In Ukraine, The Frozen Tears of Donetsk (Paris Match L’Instant) The Spanish photographer, known for his work in Syria, is now in Ukraine to document the upsurge in fighting. | See also Brabo’s work on the MSNBC and Al Jazeera America websites

Lynn Johnson: Healing Soldiers (The National Geographic) Compelling portraits of U.S. soldiers treating their war traumas by participating in art therapy, where they create painted masks to express how they feel. The images painted on them symbolize themes such as death, physical pain, and patriotism.

George Steinmetz: Treading Water (The National Geographic) These pictures from Florida’s southeastern coastline capture a region with a lot to lose as sea levels continue to rise.

Álvaro Laiz: Ninjas: Gold Rush In Mongolia (Wired Raw File) These photographs document the hard and dangerous work of amateur gold miners.

Mark Abramson: An Immigrant’s Dream for a Better Life (The New York Times Lens) Extraordinary, in-depth photo essay that follows the life of a young Mexican immigrant woman and her family in California.

Emanuele Satolli: In the Bag for North (TIME LightBox) Revealing still life images of Central American migrants’ sparse belonging on their journey toward the United States.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 28

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. As pressure builds for U.S. military attention to Boko Haram in Nigeria, that nation’s political situation and past abuses complicate planning.

By Kevin Baron and Molly O’Toole at Defense One

2. What was once an “artist” is now a “creative entrepreneur.” Marketing and networking have forever changed art.

By William Deresiewicz in the Atlantic

3. Does the rising danger of digital attacks mean traditional warfare is irrelevant?

By David Barno and Nora Bensahel in War on the Rocks

4. Probability forecasts would take some getting used to, but they are a better way to tell the public about major weather events.

By Graham T. Beck in Time

5. Improving the ‘cold chain’ — how food stays fresh from farm to table — could massively reduce waste and carbon emissions.

By Adam Wernick at Public Radio International

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Nigeria

Stable Elections in Nigeria Threatened by Boko Haram’s Latest Attacks

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015.
Akintunde Akinleye—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015.

Nigerian militants laid siege to military bases in the northern capital of Maiduguri on Sunday, raising questions about the army’s ability to combat the insurgency

As campaign season ramps up ahead of Nigerian general elections on February 14th, President Goodluck Jonathan has sought to downplay an insurgency in the country’s northeast that has been raging almost as long as he has been in power. The rise of Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based militant Islamist group best known for vicious attacks on military targets and its penchant for kidnapping women and girls and conscripting men and boys, has stymied Jonathan’s government since the former vice-president ascended to the presidency in 2010.

The insurgency has killed an estimated 11,000, according to the Council on Foreign Relation’s Nigeria Security Tracker. Unable to defeat it, the Jonathan campaign has chosen to all but ignore it as the president asks his people for an additional four-year term. But that strategy backfired on Saturday night, as militants swept into the strategic northern capital of Maiduguri just hours after Jonathan stumped for support from city residents.

The militants, who reportedly infiltrated the city of two million disguised as travelers on local buses, laid siege to key military installations and battled into Sunday. The Nigerian army eventually beat them back, but the fact that they were able to penetrate the city undetected raises questions about the military’s ability to defeat the movement, and, as the country’s Commander-in-Chief, Jonathan’s commitment to the fight.

Even as the insurgents retreated in Maiduguri, others looted, killed and abducted residents in a string of attacks on unguarded villages about 200 kilometers away, according to local authorities. As with previous attacks, such as an assault on a military base and several nearby villages that started Jan. 3 and killed scores, the government response has been muted.

Amnesty International, which has been closely documenting Boko Haram’s expansion, warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in a statement released Sunday, noting that the capital had already seen a massive influx of rural residents fleeing the violence over the past several months. “These ongoing attacks by Boko Haram are significant and grim news. We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk,” said Africa Director Netsanet Belay. “People in and around Maiduguri need immediate protection. If the military doesn’t succeed in stopping Boko Haram’s advance they may be trapped with nowhere else to turn. The government’s failure to protect residents of Maiduguri at this time could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis.”

Boko Haram’s increasing boldness comes at a delicate time for Nigeria, which is just three weeks away from an election that promises to be the closest in the country’s short democratic history. Jonathan is up against former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, who has made security the main issue in his campaign platform. Elections in Nigeria are invariably accompanied by violence — the 2011 elections saw some 800 killed in post-polling fighting when Buhari lost to Jonathan — and fears are rife that Boko Haram could take advantage of the instability to sow further discord, or advance while the security services are distracted.

The United States has expressed concerns that the elections could usher in a new wave of violence, particularly if allegations of rigging by either side are widespread. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Lagos on Sunday to reiterate the U.S.’s desire to see clean elections. “This will be the largest democratic election on the continent,” Kerry said at a press conference following meetings with the two main candidates. “Given the stakes, it’s absolutely critical that these elections be conducted peacefully — that they are credible, transparent and accountable.” But obstacles are rife: some 25 million registered voters have yet to receive their biometric voter identity cards. There is not yet a system in place for an estimated one million internally displaced to cast their votes. And the ongoing violence in the northeast could prevent voters in what is traditionally a Buhari stronghold from coming to the polls.

On Jan. 22, Jonathan’s national security adviser Sambo Dasuki suggested at a meeting of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at London’s Chatham House that the elections be postponed, but such a delay risks prolonging the instability and prevents a unified response against Boko Haram. On the same day, government spokesman Mike Omeri announced that Nigeria was considering bringing home some 3,000 soldiers deployed in international peacekeeping missions elsewhere in Africa to help secure the elections and combat the insurgency. But the military’s inability to combat Boko Haram has less to do with numbers than a longstanding history of alleged corruption within the leadership ranks, a lack of adequate weaponry and logistical supplies, unpaid salaries and poor training, according to several military analysts and frustrated soldiers. Dasuki, in his Jan. 22 Chatham House comments, defended the military leadership and instead blamed cowardice among the troops for Boko Haram’s advance. “We have people who use every excuse in this world not to fight. We’ve had a lot of people who we believe joined because they wanted a job, not because they wanted a career in the military. And it’s most of them who are running away and telling stories,” he said.

While in Lagos, Kerry reiterated the U.S.’s continued backing for Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. But that support comes with caveats: the Nigerian government must ensure that the upcoming elections will be fair and transparent. “Bottom line, we want to do more,” he said. “But our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility, accountability, transparency, and peacefulness of this election.” But doing more won’t help if Nigeria’s current leadership, both miltary and civilian, don’t want to do more to help themselves.

TIME Nigeria

A Multinational Task Force Must Fight Boko Haram, Says U.N. Security Council

People fleeing Boko Haram violence in the northeast region of Nigeria, cook food at Maikohi secondary school IDP camp in Yola, Adamawa State
Afolabi Sotunde—Reuters People fleeing Boko Haram violence in the northeast region of Nigeria cook food at Maikohi secondary-school camp for internally displaced persons in Yola, Adamawa State, on Jan. 13, 2015

After almost a year of meetings, the bloc releases a statement on how to deal with the Nigerian terrorist group

The U.N. Security Council is urging Central African countries to fight Boko Haram more aggressively.

In a statement released Monday, the council pushed for the deployment of a multinational task force targeting the Nigerian jihadist group.

This is the council’s first statement actively advocating for this sort of resolution, Agence France-Presse reports. It also called on Boko Haram to “immediately and unequivocally cease all hostilities and all abuses of human rights and violations.”

Boko Haram has gained notoriety for its brutal methods, like the use of children as suicide bombers. The 13-point statement condemned these tactics.

The response comes after attacks by Boko Haram on Sunday in Cameroon, where they took dozens of hostages. Cameroon, along with Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Benin, has signed up to join the force.

Prior to the meeting, advocacy group Avaaz received 725,000 signatures on a petition appealing to the U.N. Security Council to take action on Boko Haram. “Boko Haram has butchered its way into the global spotlight and finally the Security Council is reacting,” said Alice Jay, the campaign director for Avaaz.

TIME Nigeria

4 Dead, 35 Hurt in Suicide Bombing in Northeast Nigeria

Five killed in Nigeria's Potiskum suicide bombing
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Wreckage of a car is seen after a suicide bombing which killed at least five people and injured many others in Potiskum of Yobe State in Nigeria on Jan. 18, 2015

Blast comes amid heightening tensions as national polls near

Four people were killed and 35 wounded after a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives at a bus station in Potiskum, a town in northeast Nigeria, on Sunday.

Although no one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, investigators believe Jihadist group Boko Haram are the most likely culprits, reports Reuters.

“The information I have is that the car was pretending to be scouting for passengers,” Yobe state police commissioner Danladi Marcus told the news agency.

Nigeria is seeing spiraling violence ahead of general elections pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against former junta chief Muhammadu Buhari. The polls are considered the closest contest since military rule ended in 1999.

[Reuters]

TIME Cameroon

Suspected Boko Haram Militants Kidnap Around 80 in Cameroon

Gathering against Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria. January 17, 2015. Paris, France
Jean Marmeisse—Corbis People gather against the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria on Jan. 17, 2015 in Paris.

Over half were children

Suspected fighters from the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapped around 80 people Sunday, over half of whom were children, during a cross-border attack in neighboring Cameroon, officials said.

The kidnappings were the largest in Cameroon since the terrorist group began expanding its operations to adjacent countries, including Chad, Reuters reports. Three people were also killed during the attacks.

“According to our initial information, around 30 adults, most of them herders, and 50 young girls and boys aged between 10 and 15 years were abducted,” an army officer in Cameroon told Reuters.

Cameroon government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma has confirmed the attacks, though he said the exact number of people kidnapped during the attacks is not known.

Boko Haram has made advances in recent weeks with an assault on the multinational military base of Baga in northeast Nigeria, as the group seeks to disrupt the upcoming Presidential elections. The Nigerian government estimated the death toll from the Baga massacre was 150, though local reports said the death toll was at least 10 times higher.

[Reuters]

TIME Nigeria

Why Charlie Hebdo Gets More Attention Than Boko Haram

Nigeria Boko Haram Terrorist Attack
Aminu Abubakar—AFP/Getty Images A man injured in a suicide blast is transported to the General Hospital in the northeast town of Potiskum, Nigeria on Jan, 12, 2015.

Charlotte Alter covers women, culture, politics and breaking news for TIME in New York City.

Americans care a lot about attacks that seem like they could happen to them

A series of attacks, both in the name of Islamist extremism, occur in the same week. Three linked attacks kill 17 in Paris, another kills at least 150 in Nigeria (but perhaps up to 2,000). Guess which one gets most of our attention?

Many are calling the Jan. 7 attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo an attack on freedom of speech, or even an assault on Western values as a whole. Yet elsewhere in the world, those same values are being threatened by other extremists who want to spread fundamentalism. I’m talking, of course, about Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist group in Nigeria that kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their dorm last spring, murdered up to 2,000 civilians in Baga last week (although the bodies have not yet been officially counted), and over the weekend used a 10-year old girl as a suicide bomber to kill at least 16 people at a market (two other young girls wearing suicide vests killed three people in a separate attack.)

These attacks aren’t just brutal, they’re also part of a larger assault on freedom of religion and democracy, since the group targets Christians, non-Muslims, and anybody suspected of opposing their efforts to establish an African caliphate. Baga was reportedly perceived to have loyalties to the Nigerian government instead of Boko Haram, and the attack comes just weeks before Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election. Boko Haram, like many Islamist fundamentalist groups, oppose democratic elections.

MORE 5 facts that explain the threat from Nigeria’s Boko Haram

Yet after the overwhelming global show of support for France in the wake of the Paris attacks, many are asking why there wasn’t similar widespread solidarity for Nigeria where far more people were killed. The hashtag #IamBaga, a variation on #JeSuisCharlie, has recently begun circulating to call attention to the massacre in Baga, a slaughter that Amnesty International is calling the group’s “deadliest act.” A Catholic Archbishop in Nigeria has called on the world community to support Nigeria the way it supported France. But even if you consider the brief blast of global awareness during last spring’s #BringBackOurGirls campaign, these calls to action seem feeble compared to the millions of marchers and more than 40 world leaders who flooded the streets of Paris this weekend.

No major dignitaries showed up in Abuja to support the Nigerian government after the Baga attack. In the week since the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French terror plot has been the main headline in the national edition of the New York Times every day, but the most recent Boko Haram attack hasn’t appeared once on the front page. It wasn’t on the cover of the New Yorker. Nobody wore #IamBaga buttons at the Golden Globes.

Of course, the two tragedies are incomparable, as tragedies usually are. The reports coming out of Baga are still sketchy, and there’s not yet an official death toll because Boko Haram still controls the area. The details of the Charlie Hebdo attacks were immediately available, and were accompanied by compelling video that quickly dominated every major news network. French President Francois Hollande is somewhat unpopular, but at least he responded quickly and effectively to the attack. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has been widely criticized for his incompetence at stopping Boko Haram– Jonathan released a statement condemning the Paris attacks, but his government reportedly played down the death toll in Baga. More importantly, the attack in Paris was largely unprecedented (Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011, but nobody was hurt), while the massacre in Nigeria is part of a long string of Boko Haram attacks that some are even calling a “war“: the group killed over 10,000 people last year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and 1.5 million have fled their homes since the insurgency started. Plus, the fact that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a dramatic ambush of journalists may have added a layer of panic to the media coverage.

“The psychological distance between us and France is smaller than the psychological difference between us and Nigeria,” explains Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at University of Oregon and president of Decision Research, a non-profit research institute that studies decision-making. “There’s a sense of personal vulnerability [in the Paris attack] that I don’t think one gets from the Boko Haram attacks,”

MORE How we failed the lost girls kidnapped by Boko Haram

A recent Pew survey tracking American news interest in foreign terrorist attacks found that Americans were overwhelmingly more interested in attacks that happen in other Western countries or attacks on children. The 2005 train bombings in London and the 2004 killing of Russian children by Chechen rebels were the most closely watched by Americans (48% saying they’d followed each event closely), followed by the 2004 bombings in Madrid and the 2007 car bomb scare in London (34% said they followed those stories). 29% of Americans closely followed the most recent Paris attacks.

The only terrorists attacks in non-Western countries that got significant American attention were attacks on destinations that attract affluent visitors. For example, 29% said they closely followed the 2008 attack of Mumbai’s Taj Hotel. 25% followed the attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013, and 20% followed the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia in 2002. Recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq and at a Pakistan school didn’t make the list.

“We tend to empathize more with people that we feel are more ‘like us,'” says Marco Iacoboni, a psychiatry professor at UCLA. “I think in this case, cultural, anthropological differences can play a big role in how much we empathize with others. I jokingly call this the ‘dark side’ of empathy.”

Whether or not it’s morally right, that cognitive disconnect is exactly what the terrorists are betting on. When terrorists kill villagers in non-Western countries, it feels like one of many bad things that happen to poor people in far-away places. When terrorists attack Western cities Americans might live in, hotels Americans might stay in, or nightclubs Americans might dance in, it feels like a bad thing that could happen to you.

That’s a scary thought, which is exactly why the terrorists are doing it. But maybe we should be just as concerned about terrorists in Africa as we are of terrorists in the West. Not just because the lives of those killed in Nigeria were just as valuable as the lives of those killed in France, but because as long as people are killing in the name of Islamist extremism, or any extremism, all of us are at risk.

On Wednesday, video surfaced of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau praising the attacks in Paris, saying, “We have felt joy for what befell the people of France in terms of torment, as their blood was spilled inside their country.” It’s a chilling tribute that reminds us that when terrorism flourishes anywhere, it strengthens terrorists everywhere.

MORE Bunnies, stinkbugs, and maggots: the science of empathy

Read next: Satellite Images Show Nigerian Town ‘Almost Wiped Off the Map’ After Boko Haram Attack

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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