In an audio message posted online Saturday, Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group. The statement comes on the same day as three bombs exploded in northeastern Nigeria and comes as both militant groups are increasingly under pressure from regional forces.
Boko Haram Claims Allegiance
In the audio message, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau stated “we announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims, Ibrahim ibn Awad ibn Ibrahim al-Husseini al-Qurashi,” referring to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Shekau also called on “…Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the caliph.” The eight-minute speech, in which Shekau is not shown, was posted on a Twitter account that is used by Boko Haram and subtitled in English, French and Arabic. The move of pledging allegiance is no surprise however it comes at a time when Boko Haram is under growing pressure as regional forces have been targeting towns and villages under the militant group’s control. Furthermore, the announcement can be seen as an almost desperate move by an Islamist group attempting to remain relevant as it increasingly looses territory in northeastern Nigeria.
While Shekau had previously mentioned al-Baghdadi in video messages, until now he stopped short of pledging formal allegiance; however there have been increasing signs that the militant group has been seeking closer ties with IS. Last year, months after IS grabbed control of swathes of territory in eastern Syria and across northern and western Iraq, and announced the establishment of a caliphate, Shekau announced that the captured town of Gwoza, in Borno state, was part of a caliphate. In recent weeks, Boko Haram has also been increasingly producing videos that resemble IS group propaganda. This includes a video that was released last week, which purported to show the beheading of two men. This video demonstrates that the militant group is increasingly seeking inspiration from global militant networks, including IS.
While it is difficult to assess the immediate effect of Shekau’s statement, the announcement of an allegiance comes as both militant groups are increasingly being targeted by regional forces.
Boko Haram’s announcement comes as the militant group has been forced out of their captured territory by the Nigerian army and regional allies, a move that has forced the militant group to return to its previous campaign of urban guerrilla warfare. Similarly, while IS seized territory across Iraq and Syria last year, its expansion in its core territories has been stalled by local forces that have been backed by the United States. The announcement of allegiance is something that both groups need at the moment and will likely aid them in raising morale amongst their fighters and garner further global attention. For Boko Haram legitimacy will likely help its commanders in recruiting, funding and logistics as the militant group seeks to expand its operations in West Africa, particularly into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad. In turn, IS receives more legitimacy as a global caliphate. However the allegiance between Boko Haram and IS will only be official when an IS leader, such as spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani, issues a statement – a move that may occur in the coming days.
Boko Haram Attacks Maiduguri
Early Saturday, four bomb blasts killed at least fifty-eight people in the northeastern city of Maiduguri in what was the worst attack since Boko Haram attempted to seized the town in two major assaults earlier this year. Female suicide bomber are believed to have acted for the group, launching a series of attacks in markets while another attack was reported at a bus station.
On Saturday, a woman with explosives strapped to her body blew herself up at about 11:20 am (1020 GMT) at Baga fish market in the Borno state capital city, Maiduguri. About an hour later, another blast targeted the Post Office shopping area, which is located near the market. A further series of bombs targeted the popular Monday Market, causing chaos as locals voiced anger at security forces who struggled to control the scene. Just after 1:00 pm, a fourth blast targeted a used car lot, which is located next to the busy Borno Express bus terminal. In a fifth incident, a car bomb exploded at a military checkpoint 75 kilometres outside the city. A soldier and two members of a civilian defence unit were injured. Sources have reported that the attack had wanted to reach Maiduguri.
The fear of further attacks prompted the closure of all businesses in Maiduguri. Sources have indicated that the second and third attacks were also carried out by suicide bombers however police officials have not provided any details. Borno’s police commissioner Clement Adoba indicated that the death toll stood at 58 “for the three locations” and 143 wounded, however officials have warned that the death toll is likely to rise over the coming days. Borno state’s Justice Commissioner Kaka Shehu has blamed the attack on Boko Haram, stating that it is a response to the defeats that they have suffered in recent weeks.
On Monday, a suicide bomber killed nearly fifty students in a school in northeastern Nigeria. The attack, which has been blamed on Boko Haram, is the latest in a series of atrocities against schoolchildren in the state of Yobe and is one of the deadliest attacks against schools teaching a so-called Western curriculum.
During the early morning hours, a suicide bomber targeted students at the Government Comprehensive Senior Science Secondary School in Potiskum. The attack occurred at 7:50 AM (0650 GMT) as students were waiting to hear the principal’s daily address. National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu confirmed the incident, disclosing that at least 48 students, all believed to be in their teens, were killed while 79 others were injured. According to survivors, some 2,000 students had gathered for Monday morning’s weekly assembly. The suicide bomber was wearing a school uniform and entered the school unnoticed. Officials believe that the explosives were hidden in a type of rucksack that is popular with students. Although investigators have released minimal details about the bomber, months ago, Nigeria’s military reported finding a bomb factory in the northern city of Kano, where explosives were being sewn into rucksacks. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, however Boko Haram is believed responsible.
Frustration with the government has grown high in recent weeks, as Boko Haram has increased its tempo of attacks in the wake of an October 17 announcement by the government, which claimed to have brokered a cease-fire. Boko Haram’s leader has denied these negotiations, stating that no truce has been reached. On the ground sources reported Monday that angry locals had blocked access to the school and an adjoining hospital, preventing security forces from getting close to the site of the explosion. Family members of wounded students reported Monday that the school did not have proper security, with one local disclosing that three months ago, an anti-bomb squad was called in after officials discovered a bomb at the school. While the federal government of President Goodluck Jonathan, who recently announced that he will run for re-election in February 2015, has promised more security for schools located in northeastern Nigeria, Monday’s attack has shown that militants operating in the region continue to have relative easy access to schools in the area and are able to disguise themselves as students and enter schools without being approached by officials.
Monday’s attack came a day after the release of a new Boko Haram video, in which the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, again rejected the Nigerian government’s claims of a ceasefire and peace talks. It also comes a week after a suicide bomb attack in the same city killed thirty people a week ago when suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked a religious procession of moderate Muslims.
Since 2009, Boko Haram has carried out numerous attacks targeting schools that teach a so-called Western curriculum. In February, gunmen killed at least 40 students after throwing explosives into the dormitory of a government boarding school in Buni Yadi, also in Yobe state. In July 2013, 42 students were killed when Boko Haram stormed dormitories in a gun and bomb attack on a government boarding school in the village of Mamudo, near Potiskum.
Police and residents reported Tuesday that an explosion ripped through a football viewing centre in Damaturu, northern Nigeria, as fans were gathering to watch a World Cup game.
The blast, which occurred at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of the state capital of Yobe, occurred shortly after the tournament began at 8:00 PM (1900 GMT). Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a suicide bomber has killed at least twenty-one people and wounded twenty-seven. Sanusi Ruf’ai, police commissioner for Yobe state, confirmed the attack, stating “there was an explosion outside a soccer viewing center here in Damaturu at around 8:15 PM….Our men have deployed to the scene but it’s too early for us to give details.” On the ground sources have reported that the area has been cordoned off and that police and soldiers are investigating, while eyewitnesses have indicated that the suicide bomber, who was in a tricycle taxi, detonated explosives as people were watching the match. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, suspicions have fallen on Boko Haram, as the militant group has previously targeted big screen venues showing soccer matches.
The latest blast comes after at least two Nigerian states banned viewing centers on security grounds following previous similar attacks, which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Last week, authorities in Adamawa state closed viewing centers, where large crowds gather to watch the matches on large screens. The central state of Plateau followed suit days later. The decision by authorities to close the viewing centers is in response to repeated threats by the militant group and a blast that occurred earlier this month. A bomb went off after a football match in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state. The incident killed at least forty people. In May, three people were killed in a blast outside a viewing center that was showing the European Champions League final in the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, while in April, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, in northeastern Yobe state, shooting dead two people as they watched the Champions League quarter-final matches.
Boko haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau has previously preached against football and has threated to carry out attacks during this year’s World Cup football tournament. In several video clips, he described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion. While football is Nigeria’s national sport, and has many followers, many residents living in the northern regions of the country have indicated that they will watch the World Cup at home because of fears of Boko Haram attacks.
Similar fears have also put a number of east African nations on high alert amidst fears that Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked-al-Shabaab will carryout similar attacks during football screenings.
Earlier this week, officials in Britain released warnings to citizens in several east African nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, warning of the threat of terrorist attacks at public screenings of the World Cup games. A statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office indicated “previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed,” adding that crowded areas, including “transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars” are possible targets for the militant group.
Despite previously indicating that the Nigerian government would not negotiate with Boko Haram militants, on Tuesday, cabinet minister Tanimu Turaki stated that Nigeria is ready to talk to the Islamist militants in a bid to release the more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted one month ago. The decision comes just one day after a video of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was released. In the 27-minute video, Shekau states that captured girls who had not converted to Islam could be swapped for jailed fighters.
As the schoolgirls begin their second month in captivity, Nigeria’s cabinet minister Tanimu Turaki, who is the special duties minister and chairman of a committee established by President Goodluck Jonathan and tasked with finding ways of reaching an agreement with Boko Haram, stated Tuesday that if Shekau was sincere, he should send people he trusted to meet the standing committee on reconciliation. He has added, “dialogue is a key option” in bringing the crisis to an end and that “an issue of this nature can be resolved outside of violence.”
Tuesday’s announcement by the government’s cabinet minister demonstrates that the Nigerian government appears to be changing its stance in relation to dialogue with the militant group. The Nigerian government had initially suggested that there would be no negotiations with Boko Haram, however with increasing national and international pressure to locate the girls, who are believed to have been split up into smaller groups, it appears that the government is now looking at all the options in a bid to secure their release.
In terms of a possible prisoner swap, such arrangements have been organized before. In July 2013, one of the wives of Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau was released, along with the wives of other top commanders. Nigerian authorities have jailed several commanders, thousands of alleged fighters as well as wives and children fighters, all of which could be used to negotiate the release of the girls.
On Monday, a new Boko Haram video emerged, showing about 130 of the girls wearing hijabs and reciting Koranic verses. The governor of northeastern Borno state, Kashim Shettima, has indicated that those seen in the 27-minute video have been identified as the abducted schoolgirls from Chibok Secondary School.
While the more than 200 schoolgirls on Wednesday began their second month as Boko Haram hostages, lawmakers in Abuja are set to debate a request from President Goodluck Jonathan for a six-month extension to a state of emergency, which was first imposed in three northeastern states exactly one year ago. Given the apparent lack of progress in curbing the violence, after the state of emergency was imposed on 14 May 2013, President Jonathan is currently facing calls to explore a negotiated settlement. Despite initial gains from a surge of troops in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, tighter security along with measures including curfews and cutting the mobile phone networks appear to have been lost. Attacks have increased in the rural areas of the northeast, resulting in mounting civilian casualties. This year alone more than 1,500 civilians are estimated to have been killed. The Nigerian government has now been urged to improve its counter-insurgency tactics, including an increase in the use of intelligence, instead of just conventional means to defeat the militant fighters. Sources have also indicated that the head of the US Africa Command, General David Rodriguez, met with Nigeria’s top brass in Abuja on Monday in order to discuss the search as well as the overall military cooperation.
A new Boko Haram video released on Monday claims to show the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, alleging that they had been converted to Islam and that they would not be released until all militant prisoners were freed. In the twenty-seven minute video, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, speaks before what he says were about 130 of the girls. He states that “we will never release them until after you release our brethren.” The militant leader, who has made prisoner exchange demands before, further indicated that some of the teenagers had converted from Christianity to Islam. In the video, the girls are seen wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Three of the girls are also shown speaking in the video, with two of them stating that they were Christian and that they have since converted to Islam, while the other indicates that she is a Muslim.
The fact that only about 130 of the 276 schoolgirls are shown in the new video indicates that the girls have likely been split into smaller groups to help avoid detection. Local officials have also indicated that they have started making copies of the video in order to show relatives and friends of the abducted girls in a bid to identify them.
On April 14, a total of 276 girls were abducted from the north eastern town of Chibok, in Borno sate, which has a sizeable Christian community. While some of the managed to escape, some 223 are still missing.
Meanwhile hours after the release of a new Boko Haram video, Nigerian officials rejected conditions set out by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekasu for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls held hostage by the Islamist militants.
Asked if the government would reject the suggestion by Shekau that the girls may be released once Nigeria frees all militant prisoners, Interior Minister Abba Moro stated “of course,” adding “the issue in question is not about Boko Haram…giving conditions.”