Nigeria (MNN) — It’s happening. Emboldened by the success of the Islamic State, Boko Haram has named its own caliphate.
Boko Haram forces have killed thousands since launching an uprising in 2009. They are seen as the biggest security threat to the continent’s leading energy producer. Todd Nettleton, spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, shares one concern about what happened. “What we’ve typically seen with Boko Haram is that they’ll attack and then pull back. They haven’t been one to try to take territory and try to control it on a regular basis.”
On 24 August, the group released the first video to state a territorial claim in more than five years of violent insurrection. It shows the violent take-over of Gwoza town in Borno State three days earlier. Nettleton says, “If this is the first case of them doing that, it really does show a change of direction, and I think it shows the influence of the Islamic State and the influence that they’ve had.” World Watch Monitor reports that the group slaughtered over 100 people, including a prominent church leader, Pastor Musa Ayuba, from Church of Christ in Nations.
The WWM article also reported the arson of churches, shops, houses, and government buildings in the takeover. Hundreds of residents escaped to the surrounding mountains. But can they keep the territory they’ve taken? Nettleton explains, “I don’t think that Boko Haram has the manpower, or the military expertise, or the equipment to sweep through wide swaths of land in Nigeria and really maintain control.”
Nettleton goes on to say that the Islamic State will be tougher to dislodge for a number of reasons. “One of the things that IS has going for it is they have several of Saddam Hussein’s former military leaders that have signed on with them that are providing a lot of expertise. They also have almost unlimited funding.”
Still, it hasn’t deterred Boko Haram much. They’ve gotten help to organize and plan. They’ve executed a coordinated series attacks. Gwoza is also not the first attempt at establishing a caliphate in Nigeria. A month ago, the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency was alerted to an influx of more than 15,000 Internally Displaced People after Boko Haram overran Damboa. (The story also notes that the army has since driven Boko Haram out of Damboa).
Since then, Boko Haram intensified its campaign to eradicate Christians in the region, targeting several Christian places of worship.
Nettleton says just because they may not succeed the same way does not mean Boko Haram can be dismissed. They are every bit as brutal as the Islamic State. “If Boko Haram does follow through and really tries to establish a base of domination, and a base of radical sharia law, that really does pose a threat to the Christians who are there. They will either have to leave the area or move to some kind of underground or hidden status.”
VOM encourages believers to pray for the Christians of Nigeria. Pray for their protection and safety as they gather to meet.
More importantly, Nettleton reminds us to be praying for our enemies. God can turn things around…and fast. There’s proof in the New Testament. “We need to pray for many more ‘Sauls’ to become many more ‘Pauls’ in Boko Haram, in IS, in al-Shabaab, in all of the radical Islamic groups. That needs to be a consistent part of our prayer in these situations.” To get involved, click here for details.