‘If you see the enemy among children, you can fire on all of them’

2014-05-25 15:00

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"I am the member of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati ­Wal-Jihad for seven years."

And so began the interview with a man who introduced himself using one name, but told me to call him Saleh Abubakar.

He referred throughout the interview to Boko Haram as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, its real name.

It took days of exhaustive work to get the interview, going through contacts connected to the shadowy underground world of extremists in Nigeria. Eventually I was told by an intermediary to come to an ­unknown part of Abuja for the interview.

To my astonishment, the man calling himself Abubakar said he was an active member of Boko Haram and had seen the kidnapped schoolgirls whose story brought the world’s media to Nigeria just more than a month ago.

They had been planning the operation for three months, he told me in broken English.

As he spoke, he looked nervously over his shoulder.

After a few minutes he abruptly ended the interview, ripping off his microphone and saying he didn’t feel secure.

Our intermediary assured us that Abubakar would return, but said we needed to agree on a more secure venue.

Hours later, Abubakar brazenly drove through several police cordons and heavy security set up to capture people just like him. He met us in an up-market hotel room.

Abubakar was soft-spoken and very serious.

There was little nuance. He only became excitable when quoting salafist preachers, often used by extremists to justify jihad – violent holy war.

They believe even moderate Muslims are infidels and that their strict interpretation of Islam should dominate the world.

His voice was calm and reasonable – in stark contrast to the actual content of his chilling words and often irrational arguments in broken English. He said the girls had been taken to pressure the government into releasing Boko Haram fighters from Nigerian jails.

He insisted the girls would not be killed.

“No, no, no, I will not tell you what we are going to do if government says he will not release our members. But now in Islam is not accepted to kill a woman.”

But chillingly, he added: “If you see Shaikh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah have advise us, if you go to somewhere, if you see the enemies among the children, it’s acceptable to fire on all of them. You cannot differentiate the children. You understand?”

He would not say where the girls were and denied that any had been sold into marriage.

Just days earlier, I interviewed a young woman who was kidnapped by Boko Haram and spent three months as a hostage.

She was beaten, with a rope tied around her neck, was starved and, on occasion, was forced to accompany the fighters on their attacks.

She had ammunition strapped to her body on these occasions.

Abubakar insisted that the girls had willingly converted to Islam and were happily lying around the camp reciting the Koran. Their conversion, he explained, meant they would not be sold as slaves, as initially threatened by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video that horrified the world.

When I pointed out that threatening to sell a girl as a sex slave if she didn’t convert was the same as forcing her conversion, he shrugged and disagreed.

“We don’t care about them now. But our creator knows our heart, you understand? And even today if the government has released our members we will release that children in Chibok. Ask them, they will tell you everything,”

He explained that his organisation did not believe in democracy and was convinced that girls should not get a Western education.

Many of the Chibok schoolgirls were about to write their final physics exam when they were abducted. They’d had dreams of becoming ­doctors, engineers and scientists.

“Girls?...?no no, no no no, we ask them to go sit and just marry and worship their Lord.”

Abubakar says he has four children of his own.

“Even now, my first born is living there in the place where our camp is?...?And also I invite you to bring us your daughters and we can show them the right way. We can make them to recite the Holy Koran. I am inviting you to bring to us your daughters.”

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