After months of relying on child and female suicide bombers to continue to wage jihad in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram has conducted a series of raids of five communities in Borno state, the home of the movement, leaving at least 13 dead and razing their homes to the ground.
Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reports that the communities were part of the Jere Local Government Area of northeast Borno. The newspaper describes them now as completely destroyed, citing eyewitnesses who managed to flee. Boko Haram jihadists stormed the villages on Tuesday night, armed with both explosives and firearms, and were successful in burning down the area’s few buildings and pillaging homes. Witnesses tell the newspaper that they were caught almost entirely unarmed, and police did not arrive in time to subdue the raid.
Police later recovered 13 bodies, but are continuing their search.
Such village raids were common last year, as the Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram sect appeared well-armed with bullets and firearms, as well as the vehicles or horses necessary to travel into these communities. This raid is the first in months of its kind, however, as the Nigerian military has expanded its campaign to starve Boko Haram of food and fuel in the Sambisa forest, the group’s major stronghold.
The raid comes at a time in which the Nigerian government is struggling to maintain its assertion that Abuja has “won the war” against Boko Haram, a claim President Muhammadu Buhari made in December 2015. Days before the raid Tuesday, five local emirs that had fled Borno two years ago finally returned to their homelands, feeling sufficiently protected from Boko Haram attack. The Nigerian military also claimed Tuesday that it had killed Boko Haram’s chief bomb-maker, a move expected to reduce the number of suicide bombings the group is able to conduct in the region.
Nigerian officials are also dealing with the fallout of a misunderstanding following the rescue of a Boko Haram captive, a girl from the town of Chibok, Borno. Initial reports described the girl as one of the 219 girls abducted from the Chibok Secondary School in April 2014, the raid that made Boko Haram internationally known. Officials later clarified that she had not been one among that group, but had lived in Chibok. Nigerian troops have yet to rescue a single girl captured in the April 2014 raid.
Boko Haram’s continued use of girls and women as suicide bombers has led many to doubt Buhari’s claims that the group is no longer a major threat. Officials are now concerned that Boko Haram has changed tactics not only with suicide bombings, but by creating allies on the ground out of the Fulani herdsman, a mostly Muslim group of nomads who have terrorized Christian villages for years. Dele Alade, a politician in Ondo state, said this week his sources believe Boko Haram have infiltrated the Fulani group and traded their alliance for material support. “We have to be security conscious because of the way Boko Haram members are being tackled by our security men in the north and I am suspecting that they may have infiltrated the fulani’s herdsmen in the southern region,” he told reporters.
Vanguard noted in a column this week that, even if Boko Haram raids have been significantly diminished, communities continue to face widespread shortages of basic needs due to the halt in production caused by years of Boko Haram terrorism. “A shortfall in supply because of missed harvests, compounded by rising transportation costs and restrictions on imports because of a lack of foreign exchange, has sent prices spiralling,” the newspaper notes.