LAGOS: The head of Nigeria’s Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital Abuja and an attack hours later in Lagos which the authorities tried to cover up, in a video obtained by AFP Sunday.
In the 16-minute video, Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau also voices support for the extremist Sunni Islamic State (IS) militants who have taken over large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. He mocks the social media and protest campaign Bring Back Our Girls, which emerged after the Islamists kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls on April 14 from the remote northeastern town of Chibok.
The girls, whose abduction has drawn unprecedented attention to Boko Haram’s five-year rebellion, are not pictured in the video, which was given to AFP through similar channels as past messages. One previous recording showed more than 100 of the hostages, some of whom are Christian, reciting Muslim prayers.
Shekau also said his loyalists carried out twin car bombings in May in the central city of Jos and a June attack at a public health college in the northern city of Kano. “We were the ones who detonated the bomb in filthy Abuja,” he said, referring to a June 25 attack on a popular shopping centre in the heart of the capital that killed at least 22 people. Later that day a huge explosion also rocked the Apapa port district of Lagos, which the authorities blamed on a cooking gas explosion, with no casualties.
An AFP investigation has revealed the blast was a deliberate attack involving high explosives. The government has since conceded it was too soon to determine if the Lagos blast was a bombing, and says investigations are ongoing. “A bomb went off in Lagos. I ordered (the bomber) who went and detonated it,” Shekau says in the video, which shows him flanked by at least ten gunmen in front of two armoured personnel carriers and two pickup trucks.
“You said it was a fire incident,” he added. “Well, if you hide it from people you can’t hide it from Allah.” Analysts have said the Lagos attack was likely carried out by a local militant cell with loose or perhaps no ties to Boko Haram’s core leadership in the northeast, the group’s stronghold. Prior to June 25, Lagos, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest city, had not been hit by Islamist militants.
An escalation of violence in the city, Nigeria’s commercial capital, could have devastating consequences for the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been fiercely criticised for his handling of the insurgency. Shekau, in boasting about the Lagos attack, incorrectly identifies the Governor of Lagos State, taunting Adams Oshiomole, who is in fact the Governor the southern Edo State. Lagos State is led by Governor Babatunde Fashola.
The error is consistent for Shekau, who has regularly appears out-of-touch and unhinged in his messages. He has previously threatened ex-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher months after her death and the deceased pope John Paul II. Declared a global terrorists by the United States and sanctioned by the UN Security Council, Shekau is thought to have previously claimed credit for attacks that he did not directly order.
Near the beginning of the video Shekau calls several of the world’s most prominent Islamist extremists his “brethren”. “May Allah protect you” he said, listing IS chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban leader Mullah Omar and several others. Speaking in English, Shekau recited the Bring Back Our Girls slogan used by activists to pressure for the release of schoolgirls.
“Bring Back Our Girls... bring back our army,” he says, in what may be reference to a previous offer that the hostages could be freed if Nigeria releases Boko Haram fighters held in custody. Boko Haram’s uprising, aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, is estimated to have killed more than 10,000 people since 2009, and Shekau vowed more bloodshed. He said he will continue to be “a huge problem” for the West and people across Nigeria.
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