August 5, 2012

Boko Haram leader criticises Obama over ‘terrorist’ label

KANO (AFP) – The suspected leader of Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram criticised US President Barack Obama in an online video on Saturday over Washington’s decision to label him a “global terrorist”.

It was unclear when the video was made, but it marked the first time Abubakar Shekau publicly addressed the terrorist designation slapped on him by the United States in June.

The clip, more than 38 minutes long, could not be independently verified as authentic, but it was similar to previous videos of Shekau.

“You said I’m a global terrorist, then you are a terrorist in the next world,” Shekau said in the Hausa language in the video posted on YouTube while speaking of Obama.

Earlier in the video, Shekau says, “I call on you (Nigerian President Goodluck) Jonathan, you should abandon this ungodly power, you should repent and forsake Christianity, including Obama, who said I have business interests in the United States.”

Speaking in a sarcastic tone, an AK-47 leaning against the wall next to him, he also says, “I know the United States exists, but I don’t know which part of the world it is located in, whether in the west or the north, the south or the east.

“I don’t know where it is, not to talk of freezing my assets there.”

His comments were a reference to the terrorist designation given to him and two other Nigerians which allows US authorities to seize their assets in the United States.

In June, the US State Department announced the designations for Shekau as well as Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi. Kambar and Barnawi were said to be linked to Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda’s north African branch.

Boko Haram has carried out scores of attacks in Nigeria that have left hundreds dead as part of an increasingly deadly insurgency.

Members of the group are believed to have received training from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in northern Mali, and Western countries have been watching closely for signs of further cooperation.

Some US lawmakers have been pushing Obama’s administration to label Boko Haram as a whole a terrorist organisation, but American diplomats have stressed that the group remains domestically focused.

They also say deep poverty and a lack of infrastructure in Nigeria’s north must be addressed as part of the solution to the violence.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sin” in the Hausa language spoken in northern Nigeria, is believed to include a number of factions with differing aims. Shekau is thought to lead the main radical Islamist branch.

After a 2009 uprising that led to nearly a week of fighting, ending with a military assault which left some 800 people dead, the group went dormant for more than a year.

It re-emerged in 2010 with a series of assassinations. Bomb blasts, including suicide attacks, have since become frequent.

Its attacks have been focused in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north and a number of have occurred in the religiously and ethnically divided centre of Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.

The West African nation’s 160 million population is roughly divided between a mostly Muslim north and a predominately Christian south.

Little is known about Shekau, though he has appeared in previous YouTube clips a number of times to denounce the Nigerian government and Western influence as well as threaten further attacks.

He was seen as the second-in-command of Boko Haram at the time of the 2009 uprising.

The leader at the time, Mohammed Yusuf, was captured by soldiers and handed over to police. He was later killed when police claimed he was trying to escape, though rights groups have called it a summary execution.

Many have said dialogue is key to ending the unrest in Nigeria. Shekau made vague comments regarding talks in Saturday’s video, at one point seeming to suggest they were possible, but appearing to rule it out later.