Boko Haram claims Islamic law in Nigerian town
Nigeria's military has denied claims by Islamist militants Boko Haram that the group seized control of a northeastern town in which it intends to impose Shariah law.
Abubakar Shekau, who leads the insurgents, said in a video given to reporters yesterday that it would enforce Islamic law in Gwoza, a town of about 250,000 people, in Borno state, about 850 kilometres northeast of the capital, Abuja.
"The claim is empty," Nigeria's Defence Headquarters said on its Twitter account. "The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nigerian state is still intact."
Boko Haram, which has been waging war on the Nigerian state since 2009, is intensifying its campaign of violence ahead of elections scheduled for next February.
It killed more than 2000 people in the first six months of the year, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, most of whom died in gun and bomb attacks on villages in the majority-Muslim north.
"Any group of terrorists laying claim to any portion of the country will not be allowed to get away with the expression of delusion and crime," Defence Headquarters said. "Appropriate military operations to secure that area from the activities of the bandits is still ongoing."
Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency said on August 19 that fighting has displaced more than 400,000 people in the northeast of Africa's top oil producer, a nation of about 170 million.
"Allah has given us victory in Gwoza because we are doing Allah's work," Shekau said in the video, which also shows dozens of people described as captured vigilante fighters being executed. "Now Gwoza is caliphate under Shariah law."
The group's language mirrors that of Islamic State, Peter Sharwood-Smith, West Africa regional manager at risk consultancy Drum Cussac, said by phone from the commercial capital, Lagos. In June, the al-Qaeda breakaway group fighting in Iraq and Syria declared a caliphate in areas under its control after capturing the northern Iraqi town of Mosul.
"By saying it now, they are attempting to get more publicity on the back of the attention that Islamic State is getting in Iraq and Syria," Sharwood-Smith said. "It's not a new aspiration, they've just put it in new words."
Shekau claims in the video to have captured guns and ammunition from the Nigerian military.
"Whilst the Nigerian state is still trying to find a solution to the Boko Haram issue, it is clear that Boko Haram already exert effective control over significant areas, so he has something of a point in stating that he is in charge," Sharwood-Smith said.
Senator Muhammad Ali Ndume, who represents southern Borno, said on August 22 that Gwoza was "under siege."
"Soldiers of the Nigerian army have been overstretched in both human and material capacity," he said. "The federal government has to rise to the occasion to give these soldiers the needed support to work."
President Goodluck Jonathan wants to borrow $1 billion from external lenders to help the security forces battle the militants. On August 20, the UK said it was considering deploying new surveillance aircraft to help Nigeria search for more than 200 schoolgirls who are still missing after Boko Haram gunmen abducted them from their dormitories in April.