Islamic Extremist Leader Boasts of Nigerian Attack
LAGOS, Nigeria - The leader of an Islamic uprising in northeastern Nigeria boasts in a new video of a daring attack on military bases in a provincial capital and threatens to attack the United States next.
Few believe the Boko Haram terrorist network has such capability though there are fears its insurgency could spread to neighboring states. Officials have said that fighters from Chad, Niger and Cameroon are fighting alongside the Nigerian insurgents. Boko Haram members have been identified fighting in the Islamic rebellion in northern Mali and it has said some of its fighters trained alongside al-Shabab in Somalia.
In his first statement since the United States designated Boko Haram a terrorist network last month, Abubakar Shekau swore at the United States, calling it a prostitute nation of infidels and liars. The United States in July posted a reward of $7 million for information leading to Shekau's arrest.
He suggests that the U.S., which could not defend itself against the September 2011 terrorist attacks, cannot hurt his movement.
"If you had the capability, you would have done it in your own country. Where were you when your World Trade Center was bombed, including your Pentagon, when you were faced on your own turf?" he asks.
Shekau, eyes glaring with an anger not exhibited in previous videos, gesticulates wildly as he vows: "By Allah, we will never stop. Don't think we will stop in Maiduguri. Tomorrow you will see us in America itself. Our operation is not confined to Nigeria, it is for the whole world."
A Nigerian unrelated to Boko Haram, Umar Farouk, sewed a bomb into his underwear to try to blow up a U.S. airliner heading from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. He is serving a life sentence.
Farouk, like Boko Haram, has spoken against the massive corruption in oil-rich Nigeria that allows many politicians and businessmen to live in opulence while the majority of Nigerians struggle to put food on the table. The northeast has the worst rates for poverty, literacy and health care.
In the video, Shekau, in military camouflage and cradling an assault rifle, criticizes democracy and says he will fight until Islamic law brings purity to all Nigeria, a country of more than 160 million almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
Shekau's video includes footage said to be of the Dec. 2 attack on the air force base outside Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, showing night shots of blazing buildings as explosions blasted, fighters yelled "Allahu akhbar," (God is great in Arabic), and victims screamed. As the sky lightens after daybreak, the video shows the extremists wandering freely over the base, apparently abandoned by the military, setting ablaze three fighter jets and two helicopters. Air force officials have refused to allow journalists onto the base since the attack.
Hundreds of extremists in all-terrain vehicles and on motorcycles led by a stolen armored personnel carrier also stormed and destroyed an artillery barracks two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the air base. It was unclear how such a large convoy could move undetected at night in an area under curfew.
The day was saved by a military jet scrambled from neighboring Adamawa state, which strafed the attackers, according to witnesses. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
In the video, Shekau claims only six of his fighters died in the battle, which went on for hours - three suicide bombers and three from gunshot wounds, including one from friendly fire.
The military, which also downplays its casualties, said 24 insurgents were killed and many wounded. It said two air force personnel were wounded. But a mortuary worker said he counted the bodies of 35 military personnel at one Maiduguri hospital that day. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear he could lose his job.
The real casualty figures are unknown, including many reported civilian deaths.
The video ends with a display of scores of assault rifles, grenades and rocket grenade launchers as well as ammunition belts and laptops that a commentator says were captured in the battle.
Last week's bold attack at the heart of the military operation against the insurgents confirmed doubts about military claims to have driven insurgents out of all northeast urban centers, and raised questions about the effectiveness of a 7-month-old state of emergency.
Shekau taunts Nigeria's military in the video, where he moves fluently from Arabic to the local Hausa and Kanuri languages: "You couldn't crush us when we were carrying sticks. Is it today, when we storm your barracks and commandeer your materiel one after the other, killing you in your dozens, that you are going to crush us?"
Human rights groups accuse the Nigerian military of killing hundreds of detainees.
Thousands of Muslims and Christians have been killed by extremists since the insurgency began 2009. It came after the military, responding to attacks on police stations, bombed the Boko Haram headquarters in Maiduguri, the movement's birthplace, killing hundreds of members. The movement's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in police custody. Shekau was his deputy.
Associated Press writers Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria, and Sunday Alamba in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
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