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Boko Haram's caliphate?

Al-Amin Muhammad, (Reuters, AFP, dpa)August 25, 2014

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram said in a video they now control Gwoza, a city in northeastern Nigeria. The Nigerian military dispute the claim by the insurgents.

Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

According to Nigerian military officials, "The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nigerian state is still intact." Local newspaper 'This Day' quoted Major-General Chris Olukolade as saying the claim by Boko Haram that they now control Gwoza, was "false and empty." However, security sources and some witnesses said police and the military were being pushed out of Gwoza by Boko Haram fighters.

Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau declared in a video that the town of Gwoza, located near the frontier with Cameroon, was now under an Islamic caliphate. The militant leader's often rambling speeches on video recordings have become a common feature of his bid to project himself as public enemy number one in Africa's biggest economy.

"Allah has granted us success in Gwoza because we have risen to do Allah's work," Shekau said as he read from a notebook. Two masked gunmen stood on each side of him and three four-wheel-drive vehicles were parked behind him next to a bush. "Allah commands us to rule Gwoza by Islamic law. In fact, he commands us to rule the rest of the world, not only Nigeria, and now we have started," Shekau warned.

Soldiers in combat uniforms with one holding a rifle stand infront of a run down building
Analysts say Nigeria's military lacks adequate weapons to fight Boko HaramImage: Boureima Hama/AFP/Getty Images

Gwoza attack

The video depicts what appears to be an attack on Gwoza showing fighters backed by heavy weaponry arriving in the village. The fighters then open fire randomly into the hills at what appear to be security forces and civilians fleeing, and then they help themselves to weapons and ammunition seized from security forces. The video ends with gruesome scenes of captives being executed in mass graves, some of them clobbered to death with spades.

Hannatu John, a resident of Gwoza who fled to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, said she had not heard from her father or sisters since last week. "We are in the dark and full of despair," she said. "Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow."

A map of northeastern Nigeria showing towns.
Boko Haram attacks have targeted mostly northeastern Nigeria

According to unconfirmed reports, Gwoza has been under Boko Haram control since August 6 and military operations to secure the town have been in progress since that date. Mohammed Abdullahi Inuwa, a human rights activist told DW of his concerns. Instead of government victory against Boko Haram, the opposite was happening, he said. "When these people (Boko Haram) started coming many people were calling on the government to invite them to the negotiating table."

The Nigerian government has long insisted that it has the capabilities to fight Boko Haram, "But on the contrary what we are seeing is a victory from the side of Boko Haram to the extent that they now have even proclaimed part of Nigeria to be a republic," Inuwa said.

Change of strategy

Security analysts believe that Boko Haram may seek to hold more towns in northeastern Nigeria, as the militants change from their earlier strategy of hit-and-run to an apparent 'holding ground' strategy. Analysts say that is because Nigeria's military seems unable, or unwilling, to tackle them.

A bringbackourgirls protest in Nigeria with demonstratots holding a banner and dressed in red
Boko Haram continues to hold more than 200 girls in captivityImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Bawa Abdullahi Wase, a Nigerian security expert told DW the taking of small villages like Gwoza and Damboa showed the helplessness of Nigeria's military when faced with Boko Haram. "It's even better for the country's security apparatus to come out and confess that they have nothing to defend themselves and to defend the country."

Some Nigerian soldiers refused to be deployed to Gwoza because of what they said were sub-standard weapons which leave them at the mercy of the well-equipped insurgents.

Defense analysts have also argued that Africa's most populous nation needs to improve its counter-insurgency strategy. They point to the need to adapt to guerrilla fighting tactics rather than conventional warfare.

Others say Nigeria lacks enough political will to take on Boko Haram. The radical Islamist group has been blamed for the deaths of more than 10,000 people during its five-year-old insurgency.