Underscoring a worsening crisis in northern Nigeria, local authorities confirmed today Boko Haram militants slaughtered at least 200 civilians in three villages this week.
The militants arrived dressed as soldiers “here to protect you all,” they said, but opened fire on a gathering crowd, shouting “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,” which in Arabic means “God is Greater.” As villagers fled, other gunmen waited on motorcycles and continued the shooting.
The June 3 attacks on Attagara, Agapaluwa, and Haluwa villages in Borno State drove at least 2,000 families to the nearby Gwoza Hills—an area bordering Cameroon—where they remain trapped without food or shelter.
Some reports said the attacks began on June 2, but it took days for survivors to get word of the massacres to Maiduguri, the provincial capital, because travel on the roads has become so dangerous and phone connections are poor or nonexistent.
Maiduguri is also headquarters for Boko Haram, the al-Qaeda linked group that has killed at least 2,000 Nigerians this year and drew international attention and rebuke after it kidnapped almost 300 school girls from Chibok (also in Borno State) in April. Reportedly, the United States last month sent 80 military advisers to Nigeria and neighboring Chad to coordinate and aid in the girls’ rescue—but the security situation has only deteriorated since.
“Everything is getting worse because the security apparatus is powerless,” said Mark Lipdo, director of Stefanos Foundation, a human rights group tracking the violence in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram now operates freely in much of Borno state, according to Lipdo, particularly in the mountainous area near Gwoza, where militants believe “they can hide and defy” Nigerian forces and international security. “We have not seen any impact from international intervention,” he said.
Nigeria’s military faces persistent problems with corruption and dissension, aiding Boko Haram's rise. Many of the soldiers deployed to the north are from the south and are unfamiliar with the northern terrain and its ethnic groups. Plus, they believe they have little stake in the current fight. In addition, Islamists loyal to Boko Haram in the north have joined the military, according to Lipdo, and even some in the military’s counterterrorism Special Task Force (STF) appear to be Boko Haram sympathizers.
Earlier this week, the military arrested 15 senior officers, including 10 generals, for allegedly aiding and abetting Boko Haram. The Nigerian newspaper Leadership reported the officers had sabotaged the military campaign against the terrorist group by providing it ammunition and by leaking confidential security information about the Nigerian troops’ movements and strategies. Lipdo said eyewitnesses have confirmed the sabotage happened in Borno State, “but there is no response and nothing changes.”
Village leaders who survived this week’s attack said they heard rumors Boko Haram could attack their area, and had notified local military commands. That’s why when Boko Haram militants actually showed up, wearing soldiers’ uniforms and driving Toyota Hilux pickups normally used by the military, villagers thought protection had arrived, not their killers.