West and North Africa
Boko Haram Leader Described as Ruthless, Radical
The video is grainy. The man speaking is brash, almost laughing at points. But his message is chilling: “I abducted your girls. … By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace.”
With that, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, finally confirmed this week that the militant Islamic group was responsible for kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria on April 14.
Little is known about Shekau.
He may be in his mid 30s or as old as his mid 40s. He rarely speaks directly to Boko Haram members, choosing to communicate with only a few select cell leaders in the group. He was thought to have been killed at least twice, only to reappear later, including in 2010 when he announced he was the new leader of Boko Haram. He hasn’t been seen in public since 2009 and makes most of his pronouncements through online videos.
But among the things most media reports agree on is that Shekau is ruthless and adheres to a radical ideology.
‘I enjoy killing’
After a January 2012 attack by Boko Haram left more than 180 people dead in Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city, Shekau was quoted as saying, “I enjoy killing anyone that God commands me to kill – the way I enjoy killing chickens and rams.”
“He is the leader of the more militant wing of the group as testified by his aping of Osama bin Laden in his video appearances,” said Abubakar Mu’azu, a faculty member in mass communication at the University of Maiduguri in a profile of Shekau from the BBC.
Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state in northern Nigeria, is the headquarters for Boko Haram.
According to a CNN profile of Shekau, he uses Islam to recruit and radicalize his followers.
“The northeast, where Boko Haram has been most active, is economically depressed and among the least educated regions in Nigeria. Shekau has done a good job of convincing residents that the powers in Abuja are corrupt and a better system of government would be a strict enforcement of Islamic Sharia law across Nigeria. And his promise, coupled with a weapon and a license to plunder, has been enticing to hundreds of young men,” CNN reported.
Shekau is well-known to U.S. terrorism officials. In June 2013, the United States posted a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to his location.
He speaks several languages fluently, including Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri and Arabic.
The name of the group translates to “Western education is sinful.”
Human Rights Watch reported that Boko Haram, since its founding in 2002, has employed rape, murder, kidnapping, suicide bombings and more in its efforts to wipe out Western influence in Nigeria.
Violence has escalated
But an article on New York Magazine’s website said the worst of the violence has come since 2009, when Shekau became leader.
“Why is he so violent? I think because Shekau was almost killed,” said Martin Ewi, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in the New York Magazine article. “Imagine coming back from the dead. He knows he doesn’t have a second chance if he’s caught by the security forces. He was in the mouth of the crocodile, now he’s coming back to kill the crocodile.”
Nigeria’s mainstream Muslim clerics do not regard Shekau as a scholar and they question his understanding of Islam, the BBC reported, adding that they regularly condemn the bombings and drive-by shootings committed by his followers against anyone who disagrees with them.