BOKO HARAM CHANGES ABDUCTED CHIBOK GIRLS IDENTITIES AS GOVERNMENT FORCES CLOSES IN ON THEM
All the remaining Chibok Girls in the custody of Boko Haram JAS faction have converted to Islam and changed their names permanently to escape any chances of being identified and rescued from captivity by the Nigerian security and intelligence apparatus from jihadist remote camps in the Sambisa Forest – North East Nigeria.
Impeccable sources with inside knowledge of the Al-Qaeda and ISIS linked Jihadist operations in the region confirmed that about 10 of the abducted Chibok secondary school girls currently camped at Garin-Maluma and Sabil-Huda had ‘voluntarily’ converted to Islam and selected new Muslim names. Converting to Islam requires a change of names but in the case of the Chibok girls, their identities have been changed entirely to prevent any planned identification and rescue mission from the Nigerian government. Some of the common Muslim names they selected for themselves include Maryam, Falmata, Zara, Rukkayya and Summayya among others.
The ‘Chibok Syndrome’
Almost all of the abducted Chibok girls are now married with children (some as many as 4) to some influential Boko Haram commanders – some for the second or third time after their jihadist husbands were neutralised in battle or other conflict circumstances. After 6 years in captivity, there is a strong case to suggest that the remaining Chibok girls have accepted the lifestyle in the Sambisa Forest as the new normal and adapted to the new environment – drawing similarities to an advanced form of ‘Stockholm syndrome’.
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Chibok School Girls Abduction
A JAS Boko Haram faction stormed a remote town of Chibok, Borno State and abducted more that 200 girls from Chibok Secondary school in March 2014. Less than 6 months (August 2014) after the mass abduction, Abubakar Shekau proclaimed an Islamic Caliphate after his fighters overran the border town of Gwoza – Borno State.
The over 200 Chibok school girls were abducted by Boko Haram primarily to serve as wives and domestic servants for young jihadist fighters in the so-called Caliphate. However global condemnation and outcry from prominent individuals, activists, and organisations across the globe for the immediate release or rescue of the Chibok girls turned the largely Christian girls from potential wives to golden bargaining chips for Boko Haram unit commanders to hold the Nigerian government and security services ransom.
So far, 107 Chibok girls have been released or found through negotiations by the Nigerian government, local actors, international partners and lucky escapes. More than half of the suspected number (about 112) of abducted girls are still reported as missing. After years in captivity, sources say some of the Chibok girls have joined Boko Haram terrorists group as active fighters and have refused to be selected for any release deals. Others have been given or sold out as wives to ‘deserving jihadist commanders’ – some have died in the conflict circumstance.
Dapchi Girls Kidnap
The security situation became complex in Northern Nigeria following a February 2018 copy-cat abduction of 110 girls by the Boko Haram splinter faction -Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). The girls were abducted in Chibok style from government science and technical secondary and school, Dapchi in neighbouring Yobe State.
A quick negotiated intervention supported by local actors, state and Federal authorities, led to the immediate release of all the ‘Dapchi girls’ except Leah Sharibu, the lone Christian student who refused to be converted to Islam. Sources close to ISWAP faction say ISIS leadership had advised the new ISWAP Wali – Abu Musab AlBarnawi (Habib) that all the Muslim girls be released without delay.
The Nigerian Army that had been mobilised to search and rescue the abducted girls was drafted in to stand down and give ISWAP fighters a safe passage to return the young school girls. In an effort to secure hearts and minds of the local Muslim population, ISWAP fighters who accompanied the girls took advantage and held religious sermons with the local population and told them that the western countries, the government of Nigeria and anyone who supports them were their real target and enemies, not the local population. The Federal government of Nigeria, security services and state authorities have consistently promised to rescue all those in Boko Haram and ISWAP captivity.
Boko Haram Leader Operation Theatre
In a related development, the command and control location where Boko Haram/JAS leader conducts jihadists operations and religious sermons during the day has been revealed. The alleged location was given as “Sabil-Huda” (an enclave located deep in Sambisa Forest). However sources said that the place is known within the jihadists circle only as “Farisu.” The insurgents led by Abubakar Shekau, other senior commanders and members of the Shura council usually converge in the highly fortified ‘Farisu’ camp to observe Friday Jummat prayers at an approximate local time of 12:30pm and 1:00pm. Other nearby active camps in ‘Farisu’ which host thousands of jihadist fighters, abducted women and children include Garin Kago, Garin Maluma, Daurul Tauhid and Tokombare etc.
Many of the active Boko Haram camps in ‘Farisu’ have been bombarded by the Nigerian Army artillery and Nigerian Air Force bombs several times but because of the strategic position, the insurgents always find a safe haven in ‘Farisu’ to conduct their activities. Sabil-Huda or ‘Farisu’ also serves as a jihadists market for the sales of basic items such as telephone cards, charging of phones and provision stores.
The bloodthirsty jihadist leader is known to command and control about 25 Boko Haram jihadist camps headed by unit commanders within remote locations in the deep and marshy Sambisa Forest. Sources with knowledge of these camps say each Boko Haram camp is likely to contain approximately 1000 fighters. A number that has been significantly diminished by ongoing precision aerial strikes from the Nigerian Air Force, Nigerian Army under the auspices of Operation LAFIYA DOLE and the Multi- National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). It is impossible to verify the actual number of Boko Haram fighters in these mostly remote camps given Jihadist commanders have been notorious for inflating the number of unit fighters managed within their camps to claim for operational ‘expenses’, other essential resources from their sponsors and for propaganda.
Hideout of Abubakar Shekau
Sources further revealed that the permanent hiding place of Abubakar Shekau is a protected location within the thick and rocky forest of Firgi. Shekau relocated to Firgi forest after the Nigerian Army under leadership of Lt.Gen. Yusufu Tukur Buratai -- ‘Operation LAFIYA DOLE’ overran Shekau’s hideout in Sambisa forest in December 2016 and again as recently as March 2020.
The erratic and bloodthirsty leader is protected by 10 loyal special fighters. He retains possession of about 40 Toyota Hilux mounted with Anti-Aircraft guns, 2 Armoured tanks and 2 APCs, all carefully concealed under the thickness of the Firgi forest. His selected location provides absolute camouflage from the aerial radar of the Nigerian Air Force reconnaissance. Shekau sleeps in refurbished deep natural tunnels protected by heavy rocks with mines planted at vulnerable locations. His final location is only accessible by foot and only a selected handful of his body guards are allowed to enter his last dungeon.
Abubakar Shekau is an example of the proverbial cat with 9 lives and remains the most wanted Boko Haram leader by the Nigerian Army, regional and international states. No doubt, he will be replaced by another leader when he dies or killed. The Chibok girls and Leah Sharibu remain the most searched for girls in the history of terrorist mass kidnap. As far as a long term and sustainable Counter insurgency (COIN) strategy is concerned, the focus of the Nigerian government and regional MNJTF should be on releasing and rescuing all captives while ensuring that current battlefield ground and aerial efforts are not undermined from within and without.
David Otto, CMAS – Global Counter Terrorism & Organized Crime Expert and Founder of the conflict resolution programme – Step-In Step-Out (SISO) UK. Twitter: @ottotgs