Islamic extremist network Boko Haram rejects efforts at Nigeria amnesty deal to stop violence

Associated Press/April 11, 2013

Lagos, Nigeria - The leader of the Islamic extremist network Boko Haram apparently has refused to take part in any possible amnesty deal offered by Nigeria's government to stop the guerrilla campaign of bombings and shootings now plaguing the country.

An audio recording obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday features a man who sounds like Abubakar Shekau strongly objecting to any possible deal with Nigerian officials. The comments come after Nigeria's government has floated the idea of possibly setting up a government committee to examine offering some sort of deal to stop the violence that's killed hundreds over the last year.

The recording, first passed by intermediaries of Boko Haram to journalists in northern Nigeria, features the man talking about the possibility of an amnesty deal, first discussed last week. The man in the recording, speaking in the Hausa language of Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north, calls the amnesty deal "surprising."

"We are the one to grant them pardon. Have you forgotten their atrocities against us?" he says.

Boko Haram, which sends messages through spokesmen and communiques at times of its choosing, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The man in the recording later threatens the lives of anyone claiming to be a representative of Boko Haram saying the network wants to accept a peace deal. A self-proclaimed Boko Haram leader said he could offer a ceasefire in northeast Nigeria on behalf of the group in January, though the violence continued unstopped.

The idea of an amnesty, discussed in some corners by analysts, came to a head in March when the Sultan of Sokoto, one of the country's top Muslim leaders, called for it. While the sultan did not speak in specifics, others have suggested offering an amnesty deal in lines with one previously given to militants in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta in 2009. That deal offered cash payments and job training to fighters in return for them giving up their weapons and halting attacks on foreign oil companies. The sultan is the highest ranking official so far to publicly endorse such a plan for Islamic extremists, many of whom fight as part of Boko Haram and its splinter groups.

The 2009 amnesty deal, however, did not stop attacks in the delta, nor halt the rapidly growing theft of crude oil from pipelines there that has caused serious environmental damage. The militants there also attacked the commodity that fills the nation's coffers while typically not killing civilians. Meanwhile, Boko Haram is blamed for killing at least 792 people last year alone, according to an AP count, and its attacks occur hundreds of miles away from the nearest oil well. So far this year, violence by Islamic extremists has killed at least 173 people, according to an AP count.

No Nigerian government officials have publicly said the government is creating a committee to study a possible amnesty deal for Islamic extremists, giving wiggle room to the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan for a possible denial later in case the idea is dropped. Jonathan, a Christian from the oil delta, has faced increasing public criticism for being unable to stop the killings.

Boko Haram says it is fighting to free its imprisoned members and install an Islamic government over Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people. The group, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege," has conducted its guerrilla fight across Nigeria's north over the last three years. The group's command-and-control structure remains unclear, though it appears to have sparked several splinter groups.

A group of men who said they belong to Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven French tourists from northern Cameroon late February — a first for the group. Meanwhile, a Boko Haram splinter group known as Ansaru has claimed the recent kidnappings and killings in northern Nigeria of seven foreigners — a British citizen, a Greek, an Italian, three Lebanese and one Filipino — all employees of a Lebanese construction company called Setraco.

Despite the deployment of more soldiers and police to northern Nigeria, the nation's weak central government has been unable to stop the killings. Meanwhile, human rights groups and local citizens blame both Boko Haram and security forces for committing violent atrocities against the local civilian population, fueling rage in the region.

Early Thursday morning, suspected Islamic extremists attacked a police station in Babangida, a small town in Yobe state, Yobe state police commissioner Rufai Sunusi said. Sunusi said four of his officers died in the attack, while two others were wounded. Police killed five of the gunmen, he said.

After the attack, Yobe state's government announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew for its citizens.

Associated Press writers Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, and Mohammed Abubakar in Damaturu, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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