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Boko Haram declares Islamic caliphate in Nigeria

12 September 2014


Getting out: people board a commercial bus in northern Nigeria, on Monday, to flee from the advance of Boko Haram

Getting out: people board a commercial bus in northern Nigeria, on Monday, to flee from the advance of Boko Haram

THE Islamist militant group Boko Haram has declared an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

For several weeks, fighters from the group, which kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this year (News, 9 May), have been ransacking and terrorising villages and towns in the north-east of Nigeria.

Columns of pick-up trucks filled with militants have been forcing their way into settlements, killing most of the men, forcing women into marriages with them, and raising the Islamist black flag over local-government offices.

Some of those who escaped towns seized by Boko Haram have told Reuters that churches have also been torched, and that Christian women have been told to convert to Islam or be killed. In a shift from guerrilla tactics, Boko Haram has been establishing itself in towns in Borno state, in the north-east of Nigeria.

The leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, declared the formation of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the town of Gwoza last month. A 16-year-old schoolgirl, Indiyanatu Musa, who fled Gwoza as the Islamists took over the town, told Reuters: "They said 'Shekau sent us. You are condemned to death, be you Christian or Muslim.'

"Within a short time, the whole park was filled with bodies just lying everywhere. I was screaming, and so were my schoolmates and the rest of the women around."

The Nigerian army is now fighting to halt Boko Haram's advance on Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and the largest town in the region; and confusion surrounds the status of the nearby town of Bama.

The US Assistant Secretary of State, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is in Nigeria, said: "We are very troubled by the apparent capture of Bama, and the prospects for an attack on and in Maiduguri."

The UN has warned that thousands of Nigerians have crossed the border to become refugees in neighbouring Cameroon. A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said last week that the militants had followed some of the refugees, and had attacked them inside Cameroon.

Thousands of Cameroonians were also on the move, the UN reported, after three locals were killed by having their throats cut in a church in the village of Assighassia. The UNHCR is warning of a possible humanitarian crisis, since almost 40,000 Nigerians are now seeking refuge in Cameroon.

Many people are sleeping on the floors of churches and schools, and official refugee camps are bursting at the seams. As many as 650,000 Nigerians have been forced from their homes and are internal refugees in Nigeria, the UNHCR said.

In Gwoza, Mr Shekau has claimed to be emir, and has said that those who do not submit to the caliphate and to sharia will be killed, Reuters reported on Tuesday. In a video released last month, the Boko Haram leader said: "Better to submit to Allah before it becomes too late."

The schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamists in April remain mostly unaccounted for. It is feared that they have been forced to marry Boko Haram fighters. The Girls' Brigade International has launched a social-media campaign, urging their supporters to pray for the girls, some of whom were members of the Brigade. On 11 September, which marked 150 days since their abduction, the Girls' Brigade was planning to ask people to pray, and to raise awareness of the fact that the girls have not yet been recovered.

The re-election campaign of the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, who was criticised for his slow response to the kidnapping, was launched last week under the Twitter slogan #BringBackGoodluck2015. On Wednesday, Mr Jonathan issued a statement condemning the use of this hashtag on campaign billboards in Nigeria, since it is similar to #BringBackOurGirls, the international campaign for the release of the children, The advertisements had been released without his consent, he said, and would be taken down.

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