Tweet linked to Boko Haram promotes a training camp for would-be child soldiers
Amnesty accuses Nigeria's military of ignoring warning; Nigeria disputes allegation
Lawmaker: Bodies litter villages in northeast Nigeria, thousands more flee
Boko Haram militants have killed scores in a series of raids on dozens of villages in northeast Nigeria’s Adamawa state, continuing its violent campaign of terror in the African nation, a lawmaker said.
For two weeks, Boko Haram gunmen have sacked dozens of villages in Michika district, close to the border with Cameroon, slaughtering male residents and abducting others, said Adamu Kamale, a lawmaker representing Michika district in the Adamawa state House of Assembly.
“They move house to house, killing people – including the old, abducting women, and children and burning homes,” Kamale said Tuesday.
He said villages are littered with bodies, and there is no one to bury them because residents have fled – thousands of them, heading off into the mountains or across the border into Cameroon – to escape the onslaught.
“They slaughter people like animals,” he said.
”Now, 70% of the people in the district have been dislodged from the homes. Some of them have run into the mountains, while others have crossed into Cameroon or fled to Yola,” the capital of Adamawa state, Kamale said.
Photos link Boko Haram to child soldiers
The villagers’ ordeal is horrific but, sadly, nothing new for Boko Haram.
The terrorist group, its name translating as “Western education is sin,” has been a force in Nigeria for years. It tries to use religion to justify its actions, which are aimed at imposing its strict version of of Sharia law in Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.
Boko Haram has intensified its attacks in recent years, standing defiant against the Nigerian military. And it hasn’t gone after only government troops or officials, with civilians often becoming victims.
The group has been tied to a spate of assassinations, market bombings, attacks on churches and unaffiliated mosques and raids of villages, including those earlier this month in Michika district.
Mass kidnappings have also been part of its playbook, most notoriously the taking of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok last April. Boys and young men have been abducted as well, including 40 between the ages of 10 and 23 reportedly taken captive on New Year’s Eve in Borno state, and 97 others kidnapped in and around the village of Doron Baga in August.
And whether or not they were former captives, Boko Haram may be boasting about its use of child soldiers in its fight.
An organization calling itself Boko Haram’s official mouthpiece this week even promoted an alleged military training camp for children on its Twitter feed, posting images of children in formation holding AK-47 weapons.
While CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the photos, intelligence sources said the images appear to be real and are consistent with the Islamist extremist group’s strategy of forcibly recruiting and training children.
And the U.S. State Department lent credibility to the report by tweeting a photo of the young, heavily armed children along with these words: “Amid its massacres of innocents, Boko Haram running training camps for child soldiers.”
The release of these photos and the new Twitter account appear to coincide with an ever-more sophisticated media strategy on the part of Boko Haram. The change in tactics appears to emulate ISIS, even down to the use of Islamic chants, or nasheeds.
Last week, a video was posted on the same account purporting to be an interview with Boko Haram’s spokesman. Both the interviewer and the subject were masked and the production values were far more sophisticated than anything the terror group has published before.
Nigerian military accused of ignoring warnings
Boko Haram’s campaign has left thousands of Nigerians in danger – in some cases with the central government and others seemingly unable to help.
The latest bloodshed began in Michika township, which Boko Haram took over in September and declared to be part of its caliphate. The insurgents then moved into villages including Murva, Bororo, Ghumci, Garta-Kasa, Kamale, Boka, Futu and Kwabaride.
Humanitarian workers have been unable to reach residents who fled into the mountains, said Mohammed Kanar, head of the National Emergency Management Agency for northeast Nigeria.
“We are aware there are people trapped in the mountains but they are inaccessible. The security situation is a challenge in reaching them and offering them humanitarian assistance,” Kanar said.
Kamale said the military has not responded to complaints that he and other community leaders lodged, calling for its intervention.
“Sometimes we alert the military when they are advancing on villages before they attack, but no action is taken to stop them,” he said.
“These insurgents have been killing with impunity. When they attack a village, they will sleep there for the night after the slaughter and move on the next morning,” the lawmaker said.
There has been no reaction from the military to Kamale’s specific allegation.
Amnesty International on Wednesday leveled a similar accusation, saying it had evidence that the Nigerian military was warned repeatedly about impending Boko Haram attacks on civilians late last year on Bogo and Monguno.
“These attacks are an urgent wake-up call for the Nigerian leadership, the African Union and the international community,” said Amnesty’s Netsanet Belay. “It is essential to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians in northeast Nigeria from Boko Haram’s continued onslaught.”
The Nigerian Defense Ministry responded by calling the allegation “misleading,” saying that Amnesty’s use of “these unfortunate activities of terrorists to find fault with the counterterrorism operations, as usual, is inaccurate and unfair.”
The Defense Ministry said its forces have enhanced their intelligence abilities, troop deployment and coordination, and logistics capabilities.
“In actual fact, the protection of civilian populations is the essence of the entire counterterrorism operation,” the ministry said. “… Indeed, the troops were prepared and duly engaged the terrorists in all the instances referred to by Amnesty International.”
Journalist Aminu Abubakar reported from Nigeria, and CNN’s Greg Botelho wrote this report from Atlanta. CNN’s Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.