Boko Haram Promises More Attacks on Nigerian Schools

After an assault on a school dorm that killed 46 people, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram released a video calling for further attacks, Monica Mark of The Guardian reports. Earlier this month, the group set fire to a dormitory in the Yobe region of Nigeria, burning students and teachers alive and shooting those who tried to escape the flame-engulfed building.

This weekend the group released a 15-minute video by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau who called for more attacks against educational institutions that adopted the Western education model. He said that the group will be targeting teachers, promising to kill them in front of their students as a lesson and a warning to those who didn’t adhere to learning the Qur’an.

Shekau denied that his fighters killed children. “Our religion does not permit us to touch small children and women, we don’t kill children,” he said, reading from sheets of paper as he cradled a Kalashnikov. He also dismissed talk of a ceasefire. Last week the government said it had signed a deal with Shekau’s second-in-command.

With its ability to launch attacks reduced by a military crackdown, Boko Haram is redrawing the battle lines in Nigeria’s four-year insurgency by going after softer targets. A recent spate of attacks on schools is part of a two-pronged strategy that plays up the extremists’ ideology against western institutions while also providing a stream of potential new recruits as frightened parents pull their children out of education.

Boko Haram has used Nigeria’s poverty-ridden areas for its recruiting efforts, sometimes cajoling and sometimes forcing illiterate and under-educated children to join their ranks and attack their peers. According to witnesses, those selected to carry out attacks are often fed drugged fruit prior to departing.

In addition to the July 6th attack in Yobe, the group has set fire to more than 300 classrooms and killed more than 1,600 people since 2009.

Hundreds of families have fled the region. “This really shook us up. Students being attacked in their sleep is too disgusting for us to even imagine,” said Adam Mohammed, a textiles trader visiting neighbouring northern Kano state, where he relocated his family for safety reasons. “It was hard, but I feel I made the right decision to leave Yobe. I’m a father of three and when I think of what those parents must be going through …” He shook his head mutely.

Last month 16 students were gunned down in consecutive strikes on a secondary comprehensive in Yobe and another school in Borno, Boko Haram’s spiritual home. In April two attacks on a university left 16 dead.

Two months ago, officials declared a state of emergency in Yobe and two neighboring regions. Since the attacks the government has gone one step further by closing down schools in the affected areas. Although government soldiers have had some success in seeking out and destroying urban Boko Haram cells, the group has now switched tactics from bombing urban churches to attacking rural schools in an effort to ignite broader sectarian conflict.

Closing down mobile phone services is thought to have reduced the insurgents’ ability to co-ordinate attacks, but it has also had unintended deadly consequences. “I saw the gunmen sneaking into the school compound in hordes but I couldn’t call any soldiers for help,” said Ahmadu Sani, whose farm borders the school grounds where 46 were killed. “The police cannot be everywhere so they should restore the connections even if there’s a state of emergency.”