Ansaru, a breakaway militant group from Boko Haram which kidnapped seven foreign construction workers in Bauch has explained why the group abduct foreign hostages, saying it was meant to send a message to the western powers on the kind of advice they give to Nigerian leaders.
A young member of the group who called himself Mujahi Abu Nasir while speaking on the group’s activities also said their sympathizers are everywhere in Nigeria but that the group avoid the killing of fellow Nigerians.
Having split off from Boko Haram – the dominant Nigerian extremist group responsible for weekly shootings and bombings — this new group, Ansaru, said it eschews the killing of fellow Nigerians.
The West, which has often regarded the Islamist uprising as a Nigerian domestic issue, has been explicitly put on notice by Ansaru, adding an international dynamic to a conflict that has already cost more than 3,000 lives.
Ansaru is believed to be responsible for the December kidnapping of a French engineer, who is still missing, and for the abduction of an Italian and a Briton, both construction workers, who were later killed by their captors as a rescue attempt began last year.
It is also likely that the group was involved in the February kidnapping of a French family on the Cameroon-Nigeria border. They were released on Friday, under conditions that are unclear, as well as the kidnapping of a German engineer in Kano killed during a rescue effort last year.
“Any white man who is working with them” — meaning “Zionists,” — “we can kidnap them, everywhere,” said Mujahid Abu Nasir.
He had slipped into Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, with a bodyguard, travelling hundreds of miles from Ansaru’s secret headquarters in the north.
He said he had come under the authorization of Ansaru’s leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, who the United States said has close ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and has designated a global terrorist.
For three hours, with chilling precision, Abu Nasir, in a neatly pressed shirt and polished shoes, laid out Ansaru’s philosophy, after reciting a verse from the Koran promising “hell fire” for nonbelievers saying “opponents would be killed; Al Qaeda sympathizers were everywhere in Nigeria; and Westerners would be kidnapped”.
He said Ansaru had been motivated by Al Qaeda itself, trained by its affiliate in the region — Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — and was now following in both their footsteps.
Before speaking or touching anything, Abu Nasir carefully put on black gloves and examined a reporter’s pen to make sure there was no camera hidden in it.
He said he was the son of a Nigerian aristocrat, and he spoke Arabic, which he said he had perfected at a university in Khartoum, Sudan. He understood English perfectly but would not speak it, on principle.
“By taking these hostages, we are sending a message that they should be careful about giving bad advice to our leaders,” he said of Nigeria’s government, which he called a “puppet” of the West.
“They are as dangerous as Al Qaeda,” said Maikaramba Sadiq of Nigeria’s Civil Liberties Organization. “They have the same training as Al Qaeda. They have the same approach as Al Qaeda.”
Still, the two militant groups, Ansaru and Boko Haram, retain ties. “They are with us now,” Abu Nasir said. “Whenever we hear of oppression, we do operations together.”
At the slightest hint of rescue, mistaken or otherwise, Ansaru appears ready to kill its hostages.
Abu Nasir spoke of his early recruitment by Al Qaeda, rigorous training in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s desert camps, his leaders’ contacts with Osama bin Laden and the current leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, and disagreements with Boko Haram’s indiscriminate methods.
He said he had attended an Islamic college in the northern metropolis of Kano, which has since become a hotbed of Boko Haram radicalism. Then, “for the zeal of seeking knowledge,” he went to Khartoum, he said, where it was “Al Qaeda propagators who initiated me into the clique.”
The recruiters took him to the southern deserts of Algeria and then to Mauritania for a rigorous training course by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. For six months, he said, he trained directly under Abu Zeid. Of five who came with him from Sudan, he said, two died during training. “Everything the security forces get, we get double that,” he said of Ansaru’s training regimen.
Returning to Nigeria in 2008, Abu Nasir said, he went underground in Lagos. “Thousands” are like him, he said, “some who work in government, some businessmen, some teachers.”
“Any leader who does not listen to the warnings of his people, he is going to pay a heavy price,” Abu Nasir said. “We are not going to take one step back.”