A video posted by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram purports to show some of the hundreds of schoolchildren abducted last week in northwestern Nigeria.
Last Friday’s incident at a rural school in Kankara in Katsina state was initially attributed to criminals known as bandits who have terrorized the region for years.
But on Tuesday Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the raid, which occurred hundreds of miles from its stronghold in northeastern Nigeria, the birthplace of a brutal 11-year insurgency.
The images, which bear the Boko Haram logo, show dozens of children grouped under a tree, many of them disheveled and exhausted. A teenager who spoke English and Hausa said he was among the students abducted by a gang belonging to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
The boy appears to have been persuaded to make demands on behalf of his captors. He calls for the closure of all non-Koranic schools and says that the government troops sent to find the children must be returned.
The video was released with a recording of a voice similar to that of Shekau, who was behind the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014. He reiterated Boko Haram’s claim of responsibility.
Who are Boko Haram?
Commonly known as Boko Haram, the Islamic State in West Africa is a terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria. Formed in 2002 as Jamā’atu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Da’wati wal-Jihād which means “Group of the Sunnah people for Dawa and Jihad”, the term Boko Haram loosely translates as “Western education is prohibited” or “Western influence is a sin.”
Boko Haram started an armed rebellion against the Nigerian government in 2009. Its activities have included suicide bombings and the kidnapping of students from a university in Chibok in 2014. A massive escape from a prison in 2010 increased its ranks. His insurgency has also spread to neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
In 2015, a coalition of troops from those three countries, together with Nigerian forces, mounted a concerted effort to push back Boko Haram. For its part, since 2015, Boko Haram has aligned itself with the Islamic State. The UN estimates that at least 20,000 people have died in the conflict to date, but it is believed to be well below the true number. At the peak of its strength, it had a territory equal to the size of Belgium.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his generals have repeatedly stated that they have “struck,” “defeated“,” Technically defeated “,”directed“AND”broken heart and soul“From Boko Haram. Studies suggest casualties have been drastically reduced in recent years. But suicide bombings, child abductions and the displacement of the local population continue.
Estimates of the group’s strength range from 4,000 to 20,000 fighters, and the number of people who have fled Boko Haram territory in the Lake Chad basin is believed to be in the order of 2.4 million.
Government officials in Katsina say 333 children are missing, but parents and other local people say the number is higher. Some of the children who escaped their abductors told local media that they were forced to walk for days through the forests that stretch from northwestern Nigeria to Niger.
Schools in Katsina and four other northern states have been closed following Friday’s kidnapping. The National Union of Teachers, Nigeria’s main teachers union, threatened strikes unless security was improved.
Katsina Governor Aminu Masari said this week that the government was in contact with gangs of bandits who are holding the children captive. In recent years, groups of hundreds of bandits, often heavily armed, have swept through northwestern Nigeria, committing mass killings, robberies and kidnappings. A vast expanse of forest rich in minerals has become a haven for armed groups in the region. Rural communities and villages close to forests have been the most vulnerable to attack.
Security sources told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday that the operation was carried out on the orders of Boko Haram by a notorious local gangster named Awwalun Daudawa, in collaboration with Idi Minorti and Dankarami, two other crime bosses with strong local supporters.
For months, experts have warned of growing attempts by jihadist groups to establish cells in the northwest and forge alliances with armed groups. Across the Sahel, there are close relationships between armed criminals, traffickers and Islamist extremists.
One of the gunmen featured in the video posted by Boko Haram said the kidnapping occurred because the authorities “refused to stop killing and arresting” the Fulani, an ethnic group that includes semi-nomadic herdsmen that span West Africa. .
Attacks attributed to bandit groups made up of Fulani raiders have increased in recent years, prompting conflicting responses from Nigerian government officials. While Nigerian security forces have launched numerous operations and air strikes against bandit groups, state governments in the region have signed controversial peace accords with bandits. Both the operations and the peace accords have failed to stop the growing attacks by bandit groups, often more heavily armed than the few local police units.
While banditry encompasses a variety of criminal activities, committed by different ethnic groups, many groups are Fulani. Armed activity among the semi-nomadic community has grown amid conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and agricultural communities in Nigeria. The conflict has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks and a growth of armed groups in the region.
According to Amnesty International, 1,126 people were killed by bandits in Nigeria between January and June this year.
Boko Haram’s involvement could further complicate a security crisis in northwestern Nigeria, while the jihadist insurgency continues to devastate life in the northeast of the country. Last month, more than 70 rice farmers were killed by Boko Haram in Borno state, in one of the group’s deadliest attacks.
Insecurity has drawn growing criticism in northern Nigeria of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is from Katsina State. He has been a distant figure since the abductions and has not visited the school or the parents.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
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