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Boko Haram ’empties out entire countryside’ in new Nigeria attacks

Boko Haram, the militant Islamist movement in Nigeria, has been launching new attacks in Africa in an effort to gain more territory. But the group, notable for kidnapping hundreds of young schoolgirls, appears to be shifting its tactics. For more, Drew Hinshaw of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Ghana.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    While the world's attention has been focused recently on gains by Islamic extremists in Iraq and other radical groups, Boko Haram has been launching new attacks in Africa. To update us about that, we're joined now via Skype from Ghana by Drew Hinshaw of the Wall Street Journal.

    So, Drew, we heard just yesterday again about more attacks in parts of Nigeria, instead of the hit and run attacks from these guys, they're now capturing territory and flying their flags.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    That's right. What they've been able to do here is empty out an entire countryside. The very far northeast part of Nigeria. Town after town after town is abandoned and Boko Haram has been able to do that just by sort of constantly, like you said, starting with hit and run attacks and eventually moving entire units into these towns scaring lots of people out.

    You hear over and over again when you talk to people from these towns, the only people left in those towns are basically the elderly people, who don't really want to move, or can't move and don't really pose a threat to Boko Haram. What's interesting is they are raising their flags in some places, not all places. They're not really sticking around and governing them, like you had in northern Mali.

    They kind of go in, they make some weak effort to impose Sharia law, they tell women how to dress and then they go back into the caves and mountains and forests where they're camped out. They don't want to be sitting ducks in these towns.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Is this part of a larger strategy to form another caliphate, or at least a Boko Haram state in Africa?

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    That's right. You know, people have constantly misread what Boko Haram is about. I think the government still uses them as an Islamic insurgency that's bent on denying the president the election. Boko Haram has said for years what they want. They want to create this Islamic kingdom in the northeast of Nigeria.

    People don't really take them at their word, but that's exactly what they're going about doing on the ground there.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Any update on the missing girls that captured the attention of the West a few months ago?

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    US surveillance planes did spot about seventy girls in one field. When they came back, they were gone. Also saw a group of about forty girls, when they came back, they were gone again. It's important to say this: Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds and hundreds of girls, not just those school girls, they've also kidnapped hundreds of boys. Those girls were of political importance to Boko Haram.

    I don't think they knew that when they kidnapped them, but quite early on they realized that they had something that was a negotiating chip. So, it looks like Boko Haram is still holding those girls as a potential negotiating tool. I talked to some other girls, who had been briefly kidnapped by Boko Haram in July and described to me hearing these arguments among Boko Haram members about those girls they kidnapped – the school girls – haven't been good for anything.

    They haven't gotten any political concessions from them, the girls themselves aren't made for life in the woods. It's a burden carrying around hundreds of traumatized school girls for Boko Haram. So, basically you have the ear and a stalemate, the government can't seem to get the girls out and Boko Haram can't seem to get anything for the girls either.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Alright, Drew Hinshaw of the Wall Street Journal, joining us via Skype from Accra, Ghana, thanks so much.

  • DREW HINSHAW:

    Thank you too.

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