A video recently emerged, Genocide Watch report, that shows gunmen shooting civilians as they lay face down in a dormitory. A local leader explains they are “infidels,” even though he admits they’re Muslim: “We have made sure the floor of this hall is turned red with blood, and this is how it is going to be in all future attacks and arrests of infidels. From now on, killing, slaughtering, destruction and bombings will be our religious duty anywhere we invade.”
For months, fear of Boko Haram has gripped Nigeria’s northeast. The goals of the Islamic militant group, which captured international attention through a relentless campaign of brutality, have long been about killing. But last summer, something changed. Its aspirations became as much about territory as terrorism. It no longer wants to just cripple a government. It wants to become one.
In August, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced the establishment of his “Islamic Caliphate,” quickly taking over every corner of Borno State in northeast Nigeria. But one town called Baga, populated by thousands of Nigerians along the western shores of Lake Chad, held out. Anchored by a multinational military base manned by troops from Niger to Chad, it was the last place in Borno under the national government’s control. Over the weekend, that changed.
Gunshots punctured the early morning quiet. “They came through the north, the west and from the southern part of the town because the eastern part is only water,” one resident told the BBC. “So, when we [went] toward the western part, we saw heavily armed Boko Haram men coming toward us.” At the sight of the incoming insurgents, the soldiers put up a scant fight before abandoning their base and leaving residents defenseless.
“There is definitely something wrong that makes our military abandon their posts each time there is an attack from Boko Haram,” local state senator Maina Maaji Lawan told the BBC, adding that residents’ frustration knew “no bounds.” Frustration, however, soon gave way to something substantially worse.
It’s not clear how many people were killed in Baga. Early reports on Thursday said hundreds. Others said it was many more. Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior government official in Borno, said Boko Haram killed more than 2,000 people which, if true, would mean the group equaled its total kill count last year in one attack. More were said to have drowned in Lake Chad while attempting to swim to a nearby island. Some estimates said more than 20,000 people are now displaced as a result of what one reporter called Boko Haram’s “most horrific act of terrorism yet.”