Nigeria (MNN) — Boko Haram is daring the international community to come after the Islamic militants gripping in Nigeria and try and stop them.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA confirms, “It is absolutely a taunt. And I think of the video last week where the leader of Boko Haram said he was going to sell the girls, and he was laughing. That is clearly a taunt against the Nigerian government, and, really, a taunt to the international community.”
The rebels released a video this week showing about 130 of more than 200 veiled girls (kidnapped a month ago from their boarding school in Borno state) reciting Koranic verses. Nettleton says, “It shows that they can get the attention of the international media, which is something that they crave. The other thing: I think they wanted to show these girls as so-called ‘converts’ to say, ‘Hey, these girls are Muslims now.’”
Nettleton adds that Boko Haram’s leader says the captured girls who have not converted to Islam can be swapped for jailed fighters. The implicit threat is clear. “I think clearly it does create fear in northern Nigeria, amongst not only churches, but [also] amongst students, amongst government workers.”
Why target the girls? Among other things, Boko Haram believes girls should not be educated. The militant group has engaged in a bloody campaign to impose Islamic law on Nigeria, killing more than 1,500 people this year in a series of bombings and massacres. Nettleton explains what they’re after: “They want a separate state for Boko Haram, for radical Islam in northern Nigeria. They will not settle for moderate Muslims; they will not settle for having Christians there. The clear message that they’ve sent is: ‘If you’re a Christian in an area controlled by Boko Haram, you can convert to Islam, you can leave the area, or you can be killed.’”
Although one-third of Nigeria’s states are under Sharia law, the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram seeks to drive out all non-Muslims and create an entirely Islamic country. Along the way, they’ve killed over 1500 people this year alone.
The government took steps to contain the insurgency, including issuing a state of emergency, but Nettleton notes, “Here we are a year later: not only are they not shut down, now they’re doing these major, significant attacks, taking 200+ people captive. Clearly, whatever the Nigerian government has been doing for the last year, it hasn’t worked.”
International help may provide the manpower needed to curb the militants, but the risk, says Nettleton, is failure. “If Boko Haram gets away with this and basically sticks their thumb in the eye of the government, that’s only going to embolden them more.”
VOM partners have been targeted, too. Militants murdered a VOM volunteer in Gwoza, Borno state, in late April as he was delivering hundreds of VOM-Nigeria newsletters. “His death shocked almost all the Christian community,” said a VOM worker in Nigeria. In his work with VOM, the volunteer had used his own vehicle to transport attack victims to hospitals as part of our VOMedical work, served as a contact person between VOM staff and widows, attack victims, and Christian leaders and pastors in his community, and distributed VOM newsletters.
The killers of the volunteer reportedly stole 500 newsletters from his car, and pastors in the area are praying that the newsletters will minister to the militants.
Christians in Gwoza–only about five miles from the Cameroon border–have experienced repeated attacks from Boko Haram insurgents. Thousands have fled the city, and hundreds of homes, churches, and businesses have been razed. Yet Nettleton says when asked what the Church in the West can do to help, the first thing believers request is prayer support. “We need to pray for encouragement. We need to pray that Christians will not be fearful, they will not be weighed down by this, and hopefully they can not only continue serving the Lord but that they can continue sharing the Gospel message.”
He goes on to say that even as Boko Haram continues to terrorize Nigeria, their partners will continue to provide critical support. “Providing medical care for Christians in Nigeria is one part of our work. Providing Bibles is another part, as well as encouraging the church: to strengthen the church that is there in northern Nigeria that is keeping on and serving the Lord in spite of the attacks that they face.”