The extremist Boko Haram sect says it is set to resume its deadly attacks with sights now aimed at bombing government-owned properties, offices and residential quarters, in the 19 northern states and Abuja.
In what appears to be a defensive response to growing public anger and a tactical shift in operational approach, the spokesperson for the sect, Abul Qaqa, told PREMIUM TIMES, Thursday afternoon, that the facilities being targeted are in retaliation for the destruction of properties belonging to its members and those it characterized as “innocent landlords” in some parts of Kano and Borno States.
In a prompt response, the police asked Nigerians to disregard such a threat and go about their normal businesses, adding that it is battle ready to repel any attack by “any criminal group”.
It is not clear whether the State Security Service is aware of the fresh threat by the group. The spokesperson for the agency, Marilyn Ogar, declined comments, saying she would not respond to telephone enquiries.
In a move indicating that the group is battling for its share of the minds of the public, Mr Qaqa also said his sect is giving a notice in advance of the attacks because, “we don’t want innocent people to be caught in the attacks. We are not happy that innocent people are dying in our war with the government. And that is why we have reduced our attacks in the past few days to enable us to strategize.”
He accused the Joint Task Forces, the inter-agency outfits in charge of security in Kano and Borno states, of harassing and arresting members of the sect in the two states.
“Most of these people live in rented apartments,” Mr. Qaqa claimed.
“But to our utmost surprise, after arresting them, some with their wives and family members, the JTF will bring out their properties. Both the apartments and the properties are then destroyed.
“This has become the new trend and it is becoming difficult for people to rent out accommodation to people, and a lot of people, including our people are homeless.
“Because of this trend, we have decided that in the coming days, every Nigerian, especially in the North, including Abuja, should vacate any government quarters or buildings – residential, office, classroom or anything owned by government.
“Every government building, whether occupied or empty will be blown up. Whoever is caught up in the attacks has his or herself to blame. We have done our best by issuing this warning,” Mr. Qaqa said coldly.
We are ready for them
But the spokesperson of the police, Frank Mba, who refused to disclose whether or not his force is aware of the threat, said the security consciousness and readiness of the police is at its peak.
“For us, security is 24 hours,” Mr. Mba said.
“Whether there are threats or no threats from criminal groups, we will continue to provide the best level of security.
“We want to urge Nigerians to disregard whatever threats there are. We also want to reassure Nigerians of our commitments to providing the citizens and other inhabitants of utmost security.”
The police spokesperson said the new leadership of the force had put in place an elaborate and effective counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategies.
History of killings
The Boko Haram sect, founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, set out seeking to impose a stricter form of Sharia or Islamic law in northern Nigeria and end corruption.
The group gradually became violent after the five days of clashes in July 2009 between the group and members of the security forces in Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, and Kano states that left more than 800 people dead, including at least 30 police officers.
During that unrest, the police captured and allegedly killed the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, along with several dozen of his followers in Maiduguri.
Since the July 2009 clash with the authorities, the group has executed series of attacks on Nigeria.
Suspected members of the group carried out hundreds of attacks on cities in northern Nigeria, targeting government security officers, politicians, traditional leaders, opposing clerics, Muslims, Christians, students and journalists.
Last year, the group claimed responsibility for the November bombings in Damaturu, Yobe State, that left at least 100 people dead, and a suicide bomb attack in August on the United Nations building in Abuja that killed 24 people and injured more than 100 others.