Voice of America (Washington, DC)

25 August 2014

Nigeria Denies Boko Haram 'Caliphate' Claim

Abuja — Nigerian militants have released a new video stating they have annexed a town and the surrounding countryside into what they call their "Islamic Caliphate." Officials deny the claim and the video's credibility. But some religious leaders say as Boko Haram grows stronger, the government should re-consider abandoned peace talks.

The video released Sunday, distributed in its usual shadowy way, shows the man who claims to be the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, flanked by two masked men with guns in front of large SUVs.

He says Boko Haram has taken over Gwoza, an area that has been the site of many militant attacks in recent months, including the murder of the local emir in late May.

Next, a sequence appears to show the taking of a town or a military base. Fighters shoot their way through a rural area with buildings, in the hills among the rocks and finally rolling into town on military trucks, triumphant and still shooting, as music plays in the video.

The people in the video all appear to be Boko Haram fighters but it is not clear who or what they are shooting at. Some analysts say the video is part of an emerging pattern of Boko Haram entering towns and forcing anyone they can to fight.

"Now it's really the more they expand, they go into territories, to use the words properly, they conquer new territories and they take the boys that are there and they need more and more personnel," said Yan St. Pierre, CEO of MOSECON, a Berlin-based security firm.

The United Nations says 650,000 people have fled their homes because of Boko Haram fighting and the group has killed thousands of people this year alone with the stated goal of enforcing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Some religious leaders say that in many parts of northern Nigeria, there's nothing people can do but run.

"The federal government cannot provide the security for you. You have to provide the security for yourself and your family," explained Mallam Abdullahi Bayero, the spokesman for the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria.

Nigerian officials skeptical

But Nigerian officials say the new video lacks credibility altogether, calling Shekau's claim to have established some sort of rule, "empty."

At the same time, Defense spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade says "appropriate military operations to secure that area from the activities of the bandits is still ongoing."

While the military continues to fight, some leaders say a recent surge in kidnapping is, among other things, a reason for the government to reconsider peace talks, a strategy that has been on and off the table for years.

Among the hundreds of men, women and children kidnapped this year are more than 200 schoolgirls taken from the town of Chibok in April. The abduction drew international attention, but the girls remain missing.

Pastor Yohanna Buru of the Peace Revival and Reconciliation Foundation of Nigeria says the government should send leaders the militants can relate to, like imams or traditional rulers, to try again to negotiate.

"Boko Haram, they always approve traditional rulers or religious leaders to go and dialogue." Buru said. "Why is the federal government not playing their role right?"

In the video, Shekau directed his most venomous words against civilian vigilante groups, essentially saying those who defend their homes, will, if Boko Haram gets its way, be murdered in the name of God.

Abdulkareen Haruna contributed to this report from Bauchi, Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.

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