The leader of an African Islamist group recently declared he planned to sell “in the marketplace” nearly 300 young girls his group kidnapped last month in Nigeria, describing the young students now as “slaves.”
The shocking statement was made in an undated video that appeared to show Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the group commonly known as Boko Haram, holding an AK-47, draped in ammunition and speaking as he’s surrounded by his followers.
“They are slaves and I will sell them because I have the market to sell them,” Shekau said in the Hausa language, according to a translation by The Associated Press. "God has commanded me to sell."
The AP reported that Shekau spoke partially in English, asking his viewers, “What do you know about human rights? You’re just claiming human rights (abuses), but you don’t know what that is.”
Members of Boko Haram, which can be loosely translated to mean “Western education is forbidden,” reportedly attacked a school in a remote area in Nigeria’s northeast April 15 and made off with more than 300 young girls. Several managed to escape but according to an “intermediary” who spoke with the AP, at least two have died in captivity. Some 276 girls are believed to still be in captivity. The State Department said today the new video appears to be legitimate.
Boko Haram, formally known as Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah il-Da’awati wal-Jihad, was designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization in November 2013, but that wasn’t the group’s initial outlook. According to Bronwyn Bruton, the Deputy Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, the group that would become known as Boko Haram started as a local organization that dealt mainly with local grievances until 2009 when a previous leader was executed.
“The video of his execution was posted online and it prompted a strong backlash by a group of more radical leaders,” Bruton told ABC News.
In the summer of 2010 Shekau took over the group, “expressed solidarity with al Qaeda” and threatened the West, including the U.S. specifically, the National Counterterrorism Center says. The U.S. State Department has offered a $7 million reward for information leading to Shekau’s capture.
Intelligence sources told ABC News that it was with the help, including training and financial aid, from al Qaeda’s north African affiliate AQIM that Boko Haram has been able to conduct a series of deadly attacks in Nigeria in recent years, including a vehicle-bomb attack against United Nations headquarters in Abuja which killed 23 people in August 2011.
The State Department says Boko Haram has been responsible for the death of thousands of people and has conducted many other kidnappings and targeted killings in the past, including cross-border operations in Cameroon. When young girls are kidnapped, such as in this most recent case, Bruton said most will likely be kept by Boko Haram as “sex slaves” who are also made to cook, clean and do other household chores. Others could be sold into sham “marriages” in nearby African countries of Cameroon and Chad.
In January 2012, Shekau released a video directly addressing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, saying that Boko Haram only fights those who fight Muslims.
“What we are doing is an order from Allah, and all that we are doing is in the Book of Allah that we follow,” Shekau said then. “We don’t touch anyone but those, and he who says that he will fight Allah, he must not hesitate in watching what might come from behind.”