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Amid Daily Bloody Attacks, Nigeria’s New President Vows to Defeat Boko Haram

In a one-on-one interview with VICE News, the newly elected president of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari railed against the militant group’s actions and ideology.

by Kaj Larsen
Jul 20 2015, 8:54am

Photo par Roy Marsigan/VICE News

In the wake of multiple suicide blasts that killed dozens as they ripped through northern Nigeria late last week, the country's new president has reaffirmed his commitment to fight against the deadly insurgent group Boko Haram.

In the city of Demature on Friday, nine worshippers were killed after a suicide bomb was detonated inside a mosque as residents were celebrating Eid, which marks the end of the Islamic high holiday of Ramadan. In an increasingly disturbing trend, one of the two female suicide bombers is believed to have been a young girl - this time only 10 years old.

A marketplace was also bombed on Thursday in the city of Gombe, killing 43 shoppers who were preparing for the start of Eid festivities. Though the group hasn't claimed responsibility, the bombings have been widely attributed to Boko Haram, which has publicly declared its intention to establish an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria.

In a one-on-one interview with VICE News, the newly elected president of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari railed against the militant group's actions and ideology.

"Boko Haram is anything but Islamic. I say it too often, that no religion advocates hurting the innocent," Buhari said.

"To go and kill people in churches and mosques, and slaughter children in their sleep and school, bomb people in the market places, in Moto parks and say "Allahu Akbar" - I say this only means one thing, you either don't believe in God, or you don't know what you are saying," he added. "So I think that Boko Haram have to be severely kept away from Islam. They are not Islamic, they could be anything but they are not Muslims."

In March, after a six-year period in which Boko Haram expanded both its numbers and control of large swaths of territory in northeast Nigeria, the country's army began to hit back.

Watch the VICE News documentary The War Against Boko Haram:

Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, launched a last minute military offensive that coincided with his election campaign earlier this year. That military campaign appears to have failed, and Jonathan was defeated by Buhari in March, largely because of his failure to address the security situation in the north.

Still, there have been dozens of bombings and hundreds killed since his successor took office in late May. A senior American military official assigned to the Africa theater of operations said that the Nigerian army offensive has had the effect of "hitting mercury with a sledgehammer." Fighters with Boko Haram - which in March purportedly pledged allegiance with the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS - remain scattered across the Sambisa forest and surrounding villages, and Nigeria now is now facing a full-blown insurgency.

"The worst thing that faces us now is that they are under ISIS, so to speak. Now to us that is quite frightening, because of the resources available to ISIS," Buhari said, acknowledging that the tactics and nature of Boko Haram have evolved. Since claiming allegiance to IS, the militant group's tactics are mimicking their Middle Eastern counterparts in a new phase of warfare in Nigeria.

The Nigerian military, which atrophied in its ability under Jonathan's administration, appears underprepared to conduct a full-blown counter insurgency campaign. On Sunday, Buhari will travel to the United States to meet with President Barack Obama, where he plans to re-establish the military assistance that soured under Jonathan. Without US assistance, the Nigerian military and civilian population is facing an increasingly deadly and difficult-to-find threat.

Buhari expressed his absolute resolve in defeating Boko Haram. "We are going to prepare the Nigerian Army for their job," he said. "We are going to prepare them."

Yet some feel that a few months into his term, the Buhari administration has so far failed Nigeria. Abdullahi Muhammad Sufi, director of research and the Interfaith Mediation Center in Kaduna, northwest Nigeria, expressed discontent while speaking to VICE News.

"Since this administration took office, not a single day has gone by that blood has not been shed," Sufi said. "It is horrible, the people are scared. Since 2009 we have been used to violence, but killing people in mosques, innocents, [using] women as suicide bombers this has [created] a culture of fear and mistrust."

Related: 'Boko Haram Is a Devil': Embedded with Troops in Nigeria's Ongoing Offensive