Were the 11 people killed by Boko Haram on Christmas Day all Christians?
Hours after Christmas of 2019, an affiliate of the ISIS in Nigeria, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) released a video to announce that it had just murdered 11 Christians in retaliation for the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria in October.
Al Baghdadi was killed by US troops and its allies on the ground.
The video, which was released on Boxing Day, showed members of ISWAP slashing the throats of 10 people and shooting an additional person.
A voice-over on the footage says the killings are a “message for Christians” and that all of those killed were Christian.
The connection between ISIS and ISWAP
The Islamic State, or ISIS, has lost all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.
However, it remains a threat even after al-Baghdadi was killed in an American raid on his hide-out in northwestern Syria, The New York Times writes.
In addition to its Nigerian affiliate, terrorist groups in the Philippines, Afghanistan, Sinai and the Sahel– a 3,000-mile stretch of land south of the Sahara–also claim allegiance to ISIS.
ISWAP split from Boko Haram in 2016 for operational reasons.
According to the International Crisis Group, ISWAP has between 3,500 and 5,000 fighters.
Why did ISWAP release the video?
According to Abdulbasit Kassim, co-author of “The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State,” since other Islamic State provinces had released videos of revenge for the killing of al-Baghdadi, there was a strong possibility that ISWAP was under pressure to do the same.
“I think there’s a demand from IS Central: ‘ISWAP, where is your submission for revenge for Baghdadi?’” Kassim said.
He also added that he believed ISWAP was making two types of propaganda, one aimed at obtaining ransoms from the Nigerian government, and the other to satisfy Islamic State demands.
According to Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist who often publishes information about ISWAP and Boko Haram, ISWAP wanted to negotiate a prisoner swap, but abruptly changed course and executed the prisoners instead.
Let’s discuss that video briefly
In the 56-second video, the captives who were blindfolded and wore orange tunics, knelt on the ground, their captors standing behind them in black balaclavas (a cloth headgear designed to expose only parts of the face, usually the eyes and mouth).
A fighter in the middle then lifts a handgun and shoots the prisoner in front of him in the head.
The video then cuts to the fighters standing behind the other 10 prisoners.
Holding each captive by the face or hair, the fighters proceeded to slit their throats.
In the version of the video which was published on Amaq, an ISIS propaganda arm, a man speaks over the recording.
“This message is to the Christians in the world,” he says in both Arabic and Hausa. “Those who you see in front of us are Christians, and we will shed their blood as revenge for the two dignified sheikhs, the caliph of the Muslims, and the spokesman for the Islamic State, Sheikh Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, may Allah accept them.”
Were they really all Christians?
There is no way to confirm if all 11 slain hostages were Christians.
ISWAP has a way with propaganda and you can bet that it labelled the executed hostages as Christians only because it wanted the video to have maximum impact by timing its release to coincide with a Christian celebration.
And ISWAP did get the reaction it wanted because Christian dominated countries around the world condemned the execution within hours of the release of the video.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, a Sunni Muslim, said the “barbaric killers don’t represent Islam and millions of other law-abiding Muslims around the world.”
A couple of security experts in Nigeria have also said some of the executed were probably Muslims and that by tagging them all as Christians, ISWAP was only drawing from its propaganda playbook to garner sufficient reaction.
Buhari added that he was “profoundly saddened and shocked by the death of innocent hostages in the hands of remorseless, godless, callous gangs of mass murderers that have given Islam a bad name through their atrocities.”