Boko Haram Declares Caliphate in Gwoza
Insurgents raised their flags over Gwoza, a town of around 265,000 residents earlier this month. In a recently released video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau congratulated his fighters on seizing the Gwoza, saying they have set up an Islamic caliphate in the towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria.
The approximately 52-minute-long video shows Shekau reading a statement from a notebook with a masked gunman on each side of him and three four-wheel-drive vehicles behind him in thinly forested bush.
“Allah has granted us success in Gwoza because we have risen to do Allah’s work. 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,” he stated in the video.
In the video, Shekau also taunted France, Israel and the United States. “Democracy is worse than homosexuality, worse than sleeping with your mother,” Shekau says. “You are all pagans and we will kill you-even if you do not attack us, we will kill you … Allah commands us to kill without pity.”
The video continues with footage of what appears to be an attack on Gwoza by heavily armed fighters backed by heavy weaponry firing randomly into the hills, at what appear to be security forces and civilians fleeing. Afterwards, the fighters help themselves to weapons and ammunition seized from the security forces. The video ends with the gruesome murder of captives.
In response to the video, the government insisted that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nigerian state is still intact.”
Following the fierce fighting with Boko Haram around Gwoza, around 480 Nigerian soldiers crossed the border into Cameroon. The government, however, denied that the soldiers were fleeing. Major General Chris Olukolade, Nigeria’s military spokesman, said the army launched an “operation” against Boko Haram in Gwoza, but “found themselves” in Cameroonian territory during a “tactical maneuver.” Local media reported that the soldiers were disarmed by Cameroonian military and given shelter in a school. Gen. Olukolade said it was standard practice in such circumstances to hand over their weapons. He said the soldiers will return home.
Cameroon has officially closed its border with Nigeria to help contain the spread of Ebola and rumors that these soldiers fled will further damage the Nigerian army’s public image. Last week, a group of soldiers refused to follow direct orders to fight Boko Haram, saying the militants were better equipped.
Boko Haram is also trying to claim the town of Madagali in Adamawa state near the border with Cameroon. According to local media, hundreds of sect members attacked the Madagali army base before taking over the town.
The executive chairman of Madagali, James Abawu Watharda, said the insurgents attacked the area with sophisticated weapons, including rocket-propelled launchers, improvised explosive devices and petrol bombs. They shot at people, set property on fire, and overpowered security operatives and vigilante groups before hoisting their flags. They destroyed at least five churches in the process. They also issued written warnings for residents of a neighboring village to vacate immediately.
Boko Haram reportedly withdrew from Madagali after holding the town for 24 hours. The offensive has nonetheless caused great displacement among the town’s majority Christian population and for countless Christians from surrounding villages who had been taking refuge in Madagali. Most have now made their way to Mubi, about 80 kilometers away.
In a phone conversation with Open Doors, a local Christian lamented that life has become so difficult and full of uncertainty for believers in Nigeria. Boko Haram has destroyed at least 178 churches around Gwoza and more than 40,000 people, mostly Christians, have been displaced to Mubi, Uba and surrounding areas.
“The situation is becoming out of hand. The church can no longer support the large population of refugees from different parts of the northeast trooping to Mubi,” explained an Open Doors worker.
Local church leaders told OD over the phone, “Only God can come to our aid in this situation. We are in a very difficult situation.”
Father, we lift before Your throne these thousands of Christians who have been displaced by unrelenting violence in Borno State. Grant safety, perseverance, hope, and protection as they flee to Mubi. And we pray for the church in Mubi attempting to minister to their needs with insufficient space and diminishing supplies. We pray for Your provision, because without Your aid, they will not endure. We pray for the government of Nigeria as they plan a strategy for subduing the escalating terrorism. And we pray for the deliberate assault on Christ’s church there. Through the lens of human resources, there is no hope for this nation. But You are a God of hope and of sufficiency, and so we pray that You would reach out Your hand of mercy and save them. In the name of Jesus, our only hope in this life and the next, Amen.