Boko Haram says seized town is part of ‘caliphate’

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KANO (Nigeria): Boko Haram’s leader said a northeast town seized by the militants earlier this month had been placed under an ‘Islamic caliphate’, in a video obtained on Sunday. “Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in (the town of) Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate,” Abubakar Shekau said in the 52-minute video. In a July video, Shekau voiced support for leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in late June declared himself “the caliph” and “leader of Muslims everywhere”.

But there was no indication from Shekau in the latest video that he was associating himself with Baghdadi, whose Sunni fighters have seized parts of Iraq and Syria.

As such, it was not clear if Shekau was declaring himself to be a part of Baghdadi’s call or he was referring to a separate Nigerian caliphate.

Shekau — who has been designated a global terrorist by the United States and sanctioned by the UN Security Council — is shown in the video wearing military fatigues, with a Kalashnikov rifle strapped to his body.

He alternates between Arabic and the Hausa language that is dominant in the region. He is pictured standing in front of three SUVs and flanked by four fighters, who are masked and armed.

It is not clear when or where the video was filmed.

There was no indication that Shekau was actually in Gwoza for the filming and his whereabouts remain unknown but another unidentified fighter who speaks later in the video vowed that Boko Haram would keep control of the area.

“By the grace of Allah we will not leave the town. We have come to stay,” said the militant wearing a green shirt and a white cap.

The United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) earlier this month confirmed reports that Gwoza was under militant control.

Boko Haram is also believed to be in control of other areas near Gwoza in southern Borno, as well as large swathes of territory in northern Borno and at least one town in neighbouring Yobe state.

Mapping the precise areas which have fallen into Islamist hands is nearly impossible.

Experts have described Boko Haram’s gains in recent weeks as unprecedented, saying the group is closer than ever to achieving its goal of carving out a strict Islamic state across northern Nigeria. But many analysts believe the military still has the capacity to reverse the insurgents’ advance.

A major offensive launched when emergency rule was declared in May last year appeared to put the militants on the defensive, flushing them out of their strongholds. But critics say top brass failed to sustain the pressure and allowed the Islamists to retake some of the areas they had abandoned.