Boko Haram to Announce List of Members It Wants Freed, to Appoint Cleric as Mediator with Govt
Boko Haram, the terrorist group that kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls is preparing to announce a list of key militants that it wants released in exchange for its schoolgirl hostages, elombah.com has learnt. An international news media reports the group says that an Islamic cleric from northern Nigeria will be authorised to negotiate on its behalf with the Nigerian government, and to seek a freed prisoner for every one of the kidnapped girls.
The Telegraph say the name of the cleric involved and of the key commanders to be freed is expected to be revealed as early as Wednesday.
The group will give the cleric “clear terms of reference” for how it wants the negotiations to be conducted, and will also spell out the practical details of how it would set the girls free.
As well as senior commanders, the list of prisoners to be freed is expected to include a number of militants’ relatives who have been detained by Nigerian government to put pressure on the group’s leadership, the newspaper said quoting sources close to the militants.
Details of the proposed deal were revealed on Tuesday night by a source close to some of the militants’ families in the northern city of Maiduguri, where Boko Haram first started in the 1990s.
It came as Nigeria’s government has signalled willingness to negotiate with the Islamist militants. The militant group Boko Haram released a video yesterday showing about 130 girls wearing hijabs and chanting the Koran.
The group’s leader says he will not order the release of the students until the Nigerian government releases all militant prisoners.
The government has ruled out the swap but say they are working on negotiations to free the girls, but now appeared to be backing away from its original insistence that it would not negotiate, with Taminu Turaki, Nigeria’s special duties minister, saying on Tuesday that it would open to out “dialogue on any issue”.
The source told The Telegraph: “The group are about to name a cleric who they will mandate to talk to the government. They will give him clear terms of reference, including a list of the members they want release, and details of how they will free the girls.
“The list will include personal relations who have been detained, but also top members of the group. In total, the numbers to be released will probably be equal to the number of the girls currently held.”
Details of the group’s demands follow the release of a video tape on Monday in which Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, paraded the schoolgirls before a camera and demanded a mass prisoner swap for his “brethren” in Nigeria’s jails.
While the Nigerian government has publicly insisted that it will not negotiate with the kidnappers, some believe that in practice a prisoner swap may be inevitable given the sheer difficulty of freeing the captives by force.
The group, which is known for its ruthlessness, would not hesitate to start slaughtering its captives at the first sign of any rescue attempt, making it difficult even for British or American special forces to free the girls without considerable bloodshed. The hostages are also now thought to have been split up into several groups, and if a rescue attempt was led against one, it would likely lead to immediate reprisals against another.
Yesterday, Brigadier Ivan Jones, part of the British military team sent to advise the Nigerian government, said: “No one should underestimate the scale and complexity of this incident and environment.”
However, freeing Boko Haram fighters could involve putting men responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people back on the streets.
One senior militant currently in a Nigerian jail is Kabiru Sokoto, who was sentenced to life with hard labour last year for masterminding the bombing of a church outside Abuja that killed 44 people on Christmas Day 2011.
Another group of detained Boko Haram suspects is a gang accused of the kidnapping and killing of Chris McManus, 28, a British engineer who was abducted along with an Italian colleague, Franco Lamolinara, in northern Nigeria in May 2011. The pair were killed by their captors during a rescue attempt ten months later by a joint force of Nigerian troops and British special forces.
The eight men were arrested by state security police not along after the kidnapping, which was allegedly carried out on the orders Khalid al-Barnawi, the leader of an al-Qaeda affiliated Boko Haram faction called Ansaru. Both al-Barnawi and Shekau were designed by the US as terrorists in June 2012, and while the two are known have had fallings out, they are understood to have made amends.
In the past, a dialogue and amnesty committee set up by the Nigerian government has brokered the release of a number of Boko Haram detainees, mostly relatives of fighters still at large who were detained to put pressure on the fighters themselves.
Among those released last year was Shekau’s wife and children, who were detained during a raid in December 2012 in which Shekau was injured but escaped. While the amnesty committee has always insisted that the releases were humanitarian gestures, many suspect they were in fact the result of secret deals with Shekau, who is known to have kidnapped a number of police and soldiers in revenge for his wife being taken.
Discussion over how to respond to the prisoner swap demand came as the governor of the north-east state of Borno where the girls were abducted from met with groups campaigning for the hostages’ freedom at his residence in Abuja.
He said that all of the roughly 130 girls shown in the video, some 36 had been identified by the parents after watching it.
Today, Mark Simmonds, Britain’s minister for Africa, is due in Abuja for discussions with the Nigerian government about what further help Britain can provide.
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