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“Boko Haram Leaders Also Use Religion as A Prod to Violence”, Confesses Boko Haram Defector

Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp

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Boko Haram members
Boko Haram defector Bana Umar is seen at an undisclosed location. Umar agreed to be photographed on condition that his face not be shown. VOA
  • Umar was a fighter for Boko Haram, the Islamist radical group
  • Umar believes that the group manipulates Islam to its own violent ends
  • Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp

Maiduguri/Washington, August 27, 2017: The way Bana Umar tells it, VOA and other broadcasters helped convince him to leave Boko Haram.

Until the night of August 18, Umar was a fighter for the Islamist radical group, living at a camp in the vast Sambisa Forest, one of the group’s long-time strongholds in northeastern Nigeria.

The experience was certainly exciting. Umar says he served as a bodyguard for a commander, Abu Geidam, who he describes as very close to Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s best known leader.

And he saw action across Nigeria’s Borno State. “I have been to war about six times,” he says. “I fought in Wulari. I fought in Bita. I participated in the fighting around Chad. I was in the group that repelled Nigerian soldiers whenever they ventured into Sambisa.”

But his conscience was just as active as his gun. When asked if what Boko Haram does is good and right, he says it is not, because the group attacks people “mercilessly and unjustly,” and in his view, manipulates Islam to its own violent ends.

Boko Haram defectors confession
FILE – This image taken from video released by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria in May 2014 shows leader Abubakar Shekau, the group’s most prominent leader. VOA

Radio prompted him to make an escape plan. Umar says he heard promises from the Nigerian chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai, that defectors from Boko Haram would be welcomed, not punished. And he heard how Boko Haram’s deadly ambushes and suicide bombings were received in the outside world.

“Many of us listened to radio stations like BBC and VOA,” he says. “I listened to these radio stations frequently to the extent that when I laid down to sleep I would be thinking of what I heard. I realized that all our activities were evil. We killed. We stole. We dispossessed people of their properties in the name of religion. But what we are doing is not religion. Finally I got fed up with the group.”

Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp. He described his experiences this week in an interview with VOA Hausa Service reporter Haruna Dauda. His comments, translated from Hausa, provide insight into how the militants recruit and retain fighters and are managing to survive in the face of a multi-nation offensive.

Persuaded to join, scared to leave

Umar is 27 years old and hails from Banki, a town on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. Until 2014, he made his living as a cell phone repairman and burning CDs.

Radical Islamist group, Boko Haram
Boko Haram militants (in camouflage) embrace and shake hands with Boko Haram prisoners, released in exchange for a group of 82 Chibok girls, who were held captive for three years by the Islamist militant group, near Kumshe, Nigeria, May 6, 2017. VOA

But that year, Boko Haram overran the town. Umar says his friend, Abu Mujaheed, lured him into becoming a member of the group. All Nigerians are infidels, and only the followers of Abubakar Shekau are true Muslims, Mujaheed said. Join and you can fight to kill all the infidels.

Umar joined, but says he quickly got scared and wanted to run. He didn’t, he says, because Abu Mujaheed told him he would be killed if he tried to escape.

Asked this week if that was true, Umar said there is no doubt about it. “Even mere rumor or allegation that someone is contemplating leaving the group would lead to the killing of the person,” he says.

He says Boko Haram also discouraged defectors by telling them General Buratai’s promise of amnesty for any escapee was a ruse.

There are more than 1,000 Boko Haram members who would like to leave the group, Umar says. “There are many people that were abducted from their home towns who don’t know the way back to their places of origin. They [Boko Haram leaders] preach to such people not to leave, as if it was divine for them to be there.”

He adds: “Even some original members of the sect now want to leave because soldiers have intensified the war against them unlike in the past.”

Boko Haram defectors
FILE – Family members wait to claim bodies of suicide attack victims at a hospital in Konduga, outside Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 16, 2017. The attack was blamed on Boko Haram militants. VOA

All Boko Haram members must take new names when they join the group, and Bana Umar’s name was changed to Abu Mustapha. He says he became a fighter, not a commander. He said the militants were living in the Jimiya section of the Sambisa Forest, which, according to him, was the headquarters for Boko Haram.

At one time, he implies, living conditions were decent. In 2014, Boko Haram ruled large parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, and could operate almost at will.

Now, he says, “Life is difficult. It is not what it used to be in the past. Food is difficult for everyone.”

Some militants grow their own food, he says. “But even when you farm, your leader could take all your farm produce from you in the name of religion. You are always told that your leader has rights over all you have and yourself,” he says.

Boko Haram leaders also use religion as a prod to violence, he says.

“They use religion to tell us to kill with the promise of going to paradise. Leaders quote profusely from the Quran and the sayings of the prophet [Mohammed] to support their arguments. As they explain to make us understand their own point of view as the absolute truth, we must keep saying Allah is great, Allah is great. Then we would go out to kill,” he says.

Boko Haram kills number of people across Nigeria
FILE – A photo shows a general view of one of the biggest camps for people displaced by Boko Haram and likeminded Islamist extremists in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 28, 2016. VOA

A call to ‘repent’

Boko Haram has killed at least 20,000 people across Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger since it launched its insurgency against the Nigerian government in 2009. Attacks and bombings continue, even though the joint task force sponsored by those countries and Benin has stripped Boko Haram of nearly all the territory it once controlled, which leader Abubakar Shekau said would form the base of a “caliphate.”

Also readIslamic Terrorism Again? Boko Haram Islamic Terrorist gun down 14 in Maiduguri, Nigeria

With the weight of the group’s deeds bearing down on him, Bana Umar felt a growing need to flee. He didn’t act, however, until someone else encouraged him to believe what General Buratai promised.

He escaped on the night of August 18 with that person — the wife of his commander, Abu Geidam. On the 20th, they turned themselves in at a Nigerian army base in Maiduguri.

Asked what he would say to Boko Haram fighters still in the Sambisa Forest, Umar says: “I am calling them to repent, especially those who want to come out but are afraid… Let people know that soldiers would not do anything to whoever voluntarily repents. I came out and no one harms me. Not one single soldier lays his hand on me.”

Nigerian officials are currently debriefing Bana Umar, as they do with all Boko Haram members who leave the group voluntarily. When they finish, he will be reintegrated into Nigerian society, although not in his hometown of Banki. He will be taken to another location where he isn’t known, to make a fresh start. (VOA)

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Over 100 ‘Chibok Girls’ Rescued From Boko Haram Militants Restart Education in Nigeria

The abductions had sparked worldwide outrage and a "Bring Back Our Girls" movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

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Chibok girls entertain guests during their send-forth dinner at A Class garden in Abuja, Nigeria. The girls will commence a special foundation program at American University of Nigeria Yola .VOA

Nigeria, September 21, 2017 : More than 100 ”Chibok girls” released by Boko Haram militants, have begun a new phase of their lives. They have started taking classes at the American University of Nigeria after months of rest and recovery under the care of the Nigerian government.

The girls had been expected to start at the university in the city of Yola early next month, and the government threw them a send-off party last week at their rehabilitation center in the capital, Abuja; but, the chairman of the Chibok parents’ association, Yakubu Nkeki, said the start date was moved up because the school year had already begun.

Boko Haram
Some of the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen dancing joyfully during the send-forth dinner in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 13, 2017. (VOA)

“I went with them to the school until they were handed over to the school authority,” Nkeki told VOA’s Hausa service on Tuesday. “Since the school has already started, it was decided that it is best for them to go straight to school so they don’t miss too many classes. They were already starting late.”

At the send-off party, the minister for women’s affairs and social development, Hajia Jummai Alhassan, said the girls will start remedial classes at AUN to prepare them for undergraduate studies in any field of their choice, to be paid for by the federal government.

Boko Haram
Some of the gifts packaged to be given to the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen during the send-forth dinner in Abuja (VOA)

AUN was already educating 24 girls who escaped Boko Haram shortly after the Islamist radical group, notorious for killing thousands of Nigerians, kidnapped more than 250 students from a secondary school in the Borno state town of Chibok in April 2014.

The abductions sparked worldwide outrage and a “Bring Back Our Girls” movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

The girls who entered the university this week spent 30 to 37 months in Boko Haram captivity before the militants released them in two groups, in October 2016 and May 2017, following negotiations with the Nigerian government.

U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), an early supporter of Bring Back Our Girls, met the girls in Abuja shortly before they left the city and told VOA the former captives generally seemed to be in good shape; but, she said that according to the girls’ caretakers, this followed a long period of medical treatment and psychological therapy.

Boko Haram
In this file photo taken from video released by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist network, May 12, 2014, shows missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok. (VOA)

“Can you imagine being held captive with terrorists, men who frighten you every single day for three years? When you are released, you are not normal, your psyche is not too good. They had to debrief them and help them,” Wilson told VOA.

Wilson said she was told that some girls are also recovering from bullet wounds, machete wounds and snake bites.

ALSO READ Boko Haram Refugees Raped by Nigerian Troops and Police, says Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Wilson said that contrary to some reports, the girls have seen their families since being released; but, she endorsed the government’s decision to keep the girls together in rehab instead of returning them to their homes.

“Because these girls had been together so long, to separate them would have traumatized them in my estimation. I think the decision to keep them together was the best thing they could have done,” she said.

More than 100 girls from Chibok remain in Boko Haram captivity, three-and-a-half years after they were taken.

At the send-off party, Women’s Affairs Minister Alhassan expressed optimism the rest of the girls will be freed.

“I assure you that by the grace of God, we will have our remaining girls released,” she said. (VOA)

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Islamic Terrorism Again? Boko Haram Islamic Terrorists gun down 14 in Maiduguri, Nigeria

Police said that 14 people were killed before government troops beat back the raid

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Boko Haram
Boko Haram insurgents launched their biggest attack on the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri. VOA
  • Maiduguri is the center of the eight-year-old fight against Boko Haram
  • The fighters attacked the city’s suburbs with anti-aircraft guns and several suicide bombers
  • A total of 13 people were killed in the multiple explosions with 24 persons injured

– by Lanre Ola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters), June 08, 2017: Boko Haram insurgents launched their biggest attack on the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri in 18 months on Wednesday night, the eve of a visit by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to war refugees sheltering there.

Police said that 14 people were killed before government troops beat back the raid.

Maiduguri is the center of the eight-year-old fight against Boko Haram, which has been trying to set up an Islamic caliphate in the northeast.

The fighters attacked the city’s suburbs with anti-aircraft guns and several suicide bombers, said Damian Chukwu, police commissioner of Borno State, of which Maiduguri is the capital.

“A total of 13 people were killed in the multiple explosions with 24 persons injured while one person died in the attack (shooting),” he told reporters.

Osinbajo went ahead with his visit to Maiduguri, planned prior to the attack, launching a food aid initiative for people displaced by the insurgency, his spokesman Laolu Akande said.

President Muhammadu Buhari handed power to Osinbajo after going to Britain on medical leave on May 7.

Aid workers and Reuters witnesses reported explosions and heavy gunfire for at least 45 minutes in the southeastern and southwestern outskirts of the city. Thousands of civilians fled the fighting, according to Reuters witnesses.

The police commissioner said several buildings were set on fire but the military repulsed the fighters after an hour.

The raid took place six months after Buhari said Boko Haram had “technically” been defeated by a military campaign that had pushed many insurgents deep into the remote Sambisa forest, near the border with Cameroon.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s campaign to establish a caliphate in the Lake Chad basin. A further 2.7 million have been displaced, creating one of the world’s largest humanitarian emergencies.

Despite the military’s success in liberating cities and towns, much of Borno remains off-limits, hampering efforts to deliver food aid to nearly 1.5 million people believed to be on the brink of famine.

(Writing by Ulf Laessing and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram’s use of child suicide bombers in Nigeria triples

The report notes that girls have been used in the majority of these attacks.

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Boko Haram on Aug. 14, 2016, released a video of the girls allegedly kidnapped from Chibok in April 2014, showing some who are still alive and claiming others died in airstrikes. VOA

Geneva, April 12, 2017: The number of children used by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram as suicide bombers tripled during the first three months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, the Unicef said in a report on Wednesday.

From January to March, 27 children were used in suicide attacks by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, which is active in Lake Chad region, compared to nine cases in the first quarter of 2016, according to the Unicef report ‘Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis’, the Efe news agency reported.

Unicef said the increase reflects “an alarming tactic” by the insurgents.

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“In the first three months of this year, the number of children used in bomb attacks is nearly the same as the whole of last year — this is the worst possible use of children in conflict,” said Unicef’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier.

According to the report, 117 children have been used in the last four years to carry out bomb attacks in public places, including Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria: four in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016, and 27 in the first three months of 2017.

The report notes that girls have been used in the majority of these attacks.

As a consequence, in addition to the death and destruction caused by the suicide bombings, children have been perceived as a threat by society.

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“These children are victims, not perpetrators,” Poirier emphasised.

Unicef revealed that many children who managed to escape Boko Haram keep their experience secret as they fear being stigmatised, while others are often held in prolonged custody by authorities as they are suspected of having ties with the terrorist group.

In the wake of this crisis, the organisation urged that children taken into custody for suspected links to armed groups should be immediately handed over to civilian authorities for reintegration, psychosocial support and safe spaces, so that they can recover. (IANS)