By Jueseppi B.
LAGOS, Nigeria — The leader of an Islamic extremist group in Nigeria says his group has started kidnapping women and children as part of its bloody guerrilla campaign against the country’s government, according to a video released Monday.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says the kidnappings are retaliation for Nigerian security forces routinely imprisoning the wives and children of his group’s members. The video shows 12 children, a mix of boys and girls, though it does not identify them or say where they came from.
88 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamic extremists still missing
Mass kidnap of 129 students unprecedented in uprising that has killed 1,500 people so far this year
By The Associated Press in Maiduguri, Nigeria
Twenty-four more Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamic extremists have escaped but 85 are still missing, an education official said on Friday.
Some of the 129 young women who were abducted jumped off the back of a truck when they were kidnapped before dawn on Tuesday from a high school in the extreme north-east of Nigeria.
Others escaped into the Sambisa Forest, which bordered their school in Chibok town and was a known hideout of militants of the Boko Haram terrorist network.
The Borno state education commissioner, Musa Inuwo Kubo, said on Friday night some of the latest escapees were found on Wednesday nearly 50km from their school.
Extremists had attacked schools and slaughtered hundreds of students in the past year. In recent months they began kidnapping students, who they used as cooks, sex slaves and porters.
But this week’s mass abduction was unprecedented. The attackers also burned down many houses in the town.
A bomb in a busy bus station killed at least 75 people in the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Monday. Twenty others were killed in attacks on two villages. And a soldier and police officer guarding the school in Chibok also were killed.
More than 1,500 people had been killed in the Islamic uprising this year. The attacks undermined claims by the Nigerian government and military that they were containing the insurgency.
Boko Haram believed Western influences were corrupting and wanted to install an Islamic state in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s military remained inexplicably absent from Chibok, Kubo said, and he described residents’ “displeasure” that no security forces had come to the area since the attack.
Angry parents and men from the town went into the Sambisa Forest to try to find the students, despite the dangers of confronting extremists.
The defense ministry spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade, claimed on Wednesday that all but eight of the 129 abducted students had been freed by security forces.
Nigeria’s defence ministry spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade. Photograph: Jon Gambrell/AP
He retracted that statement on Thursday.
A recent bomb blast that ripped apart a bus station in Nigeria’s capital was a sign that a bloody al Qaeda-linked insurgency is intensifying, analysts say.
Boko Haram, an Islamic sect whose name roughly translates to “Western education is a sin,” is widely believed to be behind Monday’s attack that left 71 people dead and more than 120 others injured. It was the group’s first major attack on Abuja in about two years.
In a further display of strength, the group kidnapped more than 100 girls from a school in the country’s northeast just hours later. The militants duped the students into thinking they were soldiers before driving them away into a forest.
Early this year, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan described the the group’s insurgency as a “temporary challenge,” adding: “We will surely overcome Boko Haram.”
South Africa’s Daily Maverick newspaper said on Wednesday that “even then, in January, these bold words rang hollow.” Now they seem even more of a distant fantasy.
“The situation is getting progressively worse”
Based in the impoverished predominantly Muslim north, Boko Haram is waging a brutal campaign of violence against what it sees as the corrupt, Westernized and oil-obsessed government in the majority Christian south.
The group has been ruthless in bombing schools, churches and even mosques. It has burned villages to the ground and beheaded truck drivers with chainsaws.
Vehicles burn after a powerful explosion hit a bus station on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the carnage since 2011 alone, according to the New York-based Council for Foreign Relations.
John Campbell, a senior fellow at the CFR, said some workers with non-governmental organizations on the ground believe even this figure is too low – and the real death toll could be five times as high.
“Since 2009, Boko Haram’s operations have been increasing in number and getting bloodier and bloodier in terms of the death tolls,” he said. “This would seem to suggest the situation is getting progressively worse.”
Campbell said the bombing in Abuja, as well as several other recent incidents in the capital, is a sign the group is no longer confined to its base in the rural northeast and is capable of bringing destruction to the relative metropolitan calm of Nigeria’s administrative center.
The goal of Boko Haram is the destruction of Nigeria’s oil-driven economy and the establishment of an Islamic state in Africa’s largest country, where 170 million people are divided evenly between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north.
“People talk about links to al Qaeda but they are chasing rabbits – this is deeply rooted in Nigeria”
The group was founded in 2002 but initially did not aim to violently overthrow the government. Under its then-leader Mohammed Yusuf, the group criticized the Islamic elite for participating in what it called a “colonial government” and advocated a withdrawal to form a state based on Shariah law.
This changed in 2009 when police clamped down on the group’s collective refusal to observe a law making motorcycle helmets mandatory, according to a study published in the Journal Of Humanities And Social Science.
This led to riots across the region and a bloodbath in which more than 800 people died in one week, according to the study. Yusuf himself was captured and shot dead in police custody.
The incident was captured on cellphone and went viral online, giving the movement an organic thrust no speech or rally could hope to achieve.
Boko Haram went on a killing spree over the next year targeting government officials, security agents and religious leaders. This morphed into the large-scale indiscriminate mass murders seen in recent years.
The group is now under the control of leader Abubakar Shekau.
The State Department has since classified Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, citing its alleged links to al Qaeda and stating it had been “conducting an ongoing and brutal campaign against Nigerian military, government, and civilian targets.”
This was prompted in part by Boko Haram being blamed for a suicide car bombing at Abuja’s United Nations building that killed 21 people in 2011.
A still from a video obtained by news agency AFP shows a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, the current leader of Boko Haram.
But Campbell was skeptical about the extent Boko Haram should be treated as a terrorist organization and questioned the actual extent of its links to al Qaeda.
“To understand what’s going on we have to understand what Boko Haram actually is, which is a grass-roots insurgency with many different strands,” he said.
The “elephant in the living room,” he said, is his belief that while most people in the north are against Boko Haram’s violence, they support the implementation of Shariah courts and reject of the greed and corruption that has characterized the Nigerian government.
“People talk about links to al Qaeda, but they are chasing rabbits – this is deeply rooted in Nigeria, and fundamentally Nigerian in origin,” Campbell said.
As undoubtedly brutal as Boko Haram have been, the role of the government and security forces should not be ignored.
Nigeria is rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world by most organizations, including Berlin-based monitor Transparency International.
President Jonathan drew heavy criticism for exacerbating the situation when he ran in, and won, the 2011 presidential election. He has been accused of violating a gentleman’s agreement to alternate the leadership between the Muslim north and Christian south. Jonathan is expected to run again in 2015.
Nigeria’s security forces are also culpable for inflaming the situation, according to Amnesty International.
“How will this campaign end? That’s the $64 million question”
Amnesty has documented what it says are widespread extra-judicial killings, murders, and executions by Nigeria’s police and state troops.
“The scale of atrocities carried out by Boko Haram is truly shocking creating a climate of fear and insecurity. But this cannot be used to justify the brutality of the response that is clearly being meted out by the Nigerian security forces,” Amnesty’s Africa Director Netsanet Belay said last month.
According to Campbell, most of Boko Haram’s targets have been Muslims. Boko Haram regards the Islamic elite of the north as having sold out their religious values in favor of pocketing oil money from the south.
Many of these leaders pledged electoral allegiance to Jonathan in 2011 instead of a Muslim candidate. This perceived betrayal has fueled Boko Haram’s drive to create an Islamic state.
However, the scale of the group’s support is largely a mystery and the Nigerian government has imposed strict controls on the media, so reports of incidents are often scant or non-existent.
“We are all profoundly ignorant,” Campbell said. “Where is Boko Haram headed and how will this campaign end? That’s the $64 million question.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad (Arabic: جماعة اهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد Jamāʻat Ahl as-Sunnah lid-daʻwa wal-Jihād)—better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram (pronounced [bōːkòː hàrâm], “Western education is sinful“)—is an Islamic jihadist and takfiri militant and terrorist organization based in the northeast of Nigeria, north Cameroon and Niger. Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, the organisation seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, putting a stop to what it deems “Westernization”.
The group is known for attacking Christians and government targets, bombing churches, attacking schools and police stations, kidnapping western tourists, but has also assassinated members of the Islamic establishment. Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in an estimated 10,000 deaths between 2002 and 2013.
The group exerts influence in the northeastern Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawa, Kaduna, Bauchi,Yobe and Kano. In this region, a state of emergency has been declared. The group does not have a clear structure or evident chain of command and has been called “diffuse” with a “cell-like structure” facilitating factions and splits. It is reportedly divided into three factions with a splinter group known as Ansaru. The group’s main leader is Abubakar Shekau. Its weapons expert, second-in-command and arms manufacturer was Momodu Bama.
Whether it has links to jihadist groups outside Nigeria is disputed. According to one US military commander, Boko Haram is likely linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but others have found no evidence of material international support, and attacks by the group on international targets have so far been limited. On November 13, 2013 the United States government designated the group as a terrorist organisation.
Many of the group’s senior radicals were reportedly partially inspired by the late Islamic preacher known as Maitatsine. Others believe the group is motivated by inter-ethnic disputes as much as religion, and that its founder Yusuf believed there was a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” by Plateau State governor Jonah Jang against the Hausa and Fulani people. Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian government of human rights abuses after 950 suspected Boko Haram militants died in detention facilities run by Nigeria’s military Joint Task Force in the first half of 2013. The conflicts have left around 90,000 people displaced. Human Rights Watch claims that Boko Haram uses child soldiers, including 12 year olds.
Beginning of violence
The group conducted its operations more or less peacefully during the first seven years of its existence. That changed in 2009 when the Nigerian government launched an investigation into the group’s activities following reports that its members were arming themselves. Prior to that the government reportedly repeatedly ignored warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organisation, including that of a military officer.
When the government came into action, several members of the group were arrested in Bauchi, sparking deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces which led to the deaths of an estimated 700 people. During the fighting with the security forces Boko Haram fighters reportedly “used fuel-laden motorcycles” and “bows with poison arrows” to attack a police station. The group’s founder and then leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed during this time while in police custody. After Yusuf’s killing, a new leader emerged whose identity was not known at the time.
The video surfaced the same day that an education official said a Nigerian schoolgirl, who was among the 129 kidnapped Monday by suspected Boko Haram militants, had returned home.
Even so, 84 of the girl’s classmates remain unaccounted for.
A total of 45 girls are now free, according to a statement from Borno State Education Commissioner Musa Inuwa Kulo.
This still unsettled situation began Monday night, when militants engaged in a battle with guards at the Government Girls Secondary School in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok began herding the girls onto buses and trucks and drove off, authorities said.
But some of the schoolgirls managed subsequently to escape, including 14 on Friday and others on previous days, according to Kulo.
This is a far cry from the Defense Ministry’s previous report that all but eight of the girls had found freedom, a claim that Nigeria’s military retracted Thursday.
This retraction spurred fervent criticism of the government, with Lawan Zanna — the father of one of the students — blasting it as having resorted to “blatant propaganda” by making a “blatant lie.”
Who is Shekau?
Under Shekau, who took control of the group in 2009, violence carried out by the group has flourished, according to authorities.
Questions have swirled about Shekau, including whether he’s dead or alive. In recent years, the Nigerian military has touted his death, only to retract its claim after he appeared alive and vibrant in propaganda videos.
He uses the alias Darul Tawheed, and analysts describe him as a ruthless loner and master of disguise.
The United States has put a $7 million bounty on Shekau’s head. It also designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist network last year.
The group is diffuse, and Skekau does not speak directly with members, opting to communicate through a few select confidants. This may be why Shekau made no mention of the kidnapping of the schoolgirls.
CNN’s Faith Karimi and journalist Aminu Abubakar in Kano contributed to this report.
Why has there been no media wide coverage of this mass abduction? Because this happened in Nigeria. Figure out why. Stumped? Nigeria is a Black nation.
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