Deborah Peters is the only female survivor of a Boko Haram attack ever to visit Washington, D.C. A teenage girl from the village of Chibok, where hundreds of schoolgirls were recently abducted by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, Peters is now a student in the U.S.
On Tuesday, The Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., invited Peters to tell her story. She was on a panel along with international human rights lawyer and Boko Haram expert Emmanuel Ogebe to discuss “the recent attacks of Boko Haram–and necessary steps by the international community to reverse and halt the rising trend of extremist violence this group has come to represent.”
Peters told her story as the sole survivor of a Boko Haram attack on her family.
On the night of December 22, 2011, Deborah said, “At 7:00 p.m., me and my brother were at home. We started hearing a gun shooting.” She continued, “At 7:30 three men knocked on my door. They asked, where is your father?” The militants demanded Peters’s father reject his Christian faith. He refused. The militants responded by immediately shooting him in the chest three times.
The Boko Haram members then debated whether or not to kill Deborah’s brother. They decided that they would execute him, their rationale being that he would likely grow up to be a pastor, just like his father.
Peters was brought to tears recalling how she had to witness the horrific atrocities committed by Boko Haram.
Peters decided to reveal her story because she “wanted to help other people with what was happening in Nigeria.” She hoped that if people heard her story, it would help others have the courage to come forward and “stand strong.”
Emmanuel Ogebe noted his frustration that the Obama administration was not ahead of the curve in taking seriously the threat from Boko Haram. “We wanted to put a face to the atrocities that were going on in Nigeria. We face a major wall of denial… from the State Department,” he continued, “We were facing an administration that was denying the religious discrimination of Christians in Nigeria.”
Ogebe talked about the recent change in tactics from Boko Haram. He described their past actions as those of “gentlemen terrorists,” meaning they used to spare the elderly, young, or women. In recent times, he said, their tactics have changed drastically, and overall ruthlessness has increased exponentially.
The Boko Haram expert was frustrated by the narrative behind the terrorist group, dismissing claims that they should be considered anything but radical Islamists. “These are not rebels. They are anarchists, jihadists.” He continued, “We do not have a cure for extreme fanatical Islamism. Containment, not appeasement, is the solution.”
Describing Boko Haram’s vision for Africa, Ogebe said, “In the first place, they want an Islamist theocracy over northern Nigeria. You cannot achieve that when the population is 50% Christian. You cannot achieve that without massive genocide.” He continued, “They want a very extreme version of Shariah law. They want public beheadings in a stadium where people can gather. They don’t want the process with a court and trials, that is too slow and boring… These are the type of savages we are dealing with.”
The panelists took a few brief questions.
When asked what he would want the international community to do, Ogebe responded that before we do anything, “This must first be properly framed in the lens of global jihad.”
A reporter asked Deborah a question as to why she didn’t spend time with the fellow Muslim kids in her community in Nigeria. “Every time I was with the Muslim kids they would tell me that my God was fake, so I didn’t want to hang out with them anymore,” she said.
Peters had one last message to share with the audience. She held up a sign that said “#BringBackMySisters.”
Watch Peters and the Hudson Institute panel below: