LAGOS, Nigeria — Shaking a finger while cradling an assault rifle, the bearded leader of Nigerian Islamist militants threatens to burn down more schools and kill teachers. But he denies that his fighters are killing children.
In a video released Saturday, Islamist radical Abubakar Shekau says he “fully supports” attacks on several schools in northeastern Nigeria in recent weeks.
The United Nations Children’s Fund says at least 48 students and seven teachers have been killed since June, with some burned alive in a dormitory this month.
“We support the work they did at the school, at Mamudo and Damaturu, and other attacks in other schools,” says Shekau, who wore military fatigues in the video. “We are going to burn down the schools, if they are not Islamic religious schools for Allah.”
But Shekau insists his fighters do not kill children.
“We don’t touch small children, we only burn the schools,” he says. “Our religion does not permit us to touch small children and women; we don’t kill children.”
He says his fighters would, however, attack teachers. “Schoolteachers who are teaching Western education? We will kill them! We will kill them!” he warns, wagging his finger.
Shekau is a leader of the extremist group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.
Attacks on schools have continued despite the deployment of thousands of troops in northeastern Nigeria to put down the Islamist extremists’ violent campaign — the greatest threat in years to the security of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency May 14 in the three northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
In northwestern Nigeria this week, security forces said they engaged in a five-hour gunbattle with a group of Boko Haram fighters in Sokoto. The city is home to the sultan of Sokoto, the preeminent leader of Nigeria’s tens of millions of Muslims, who preaches against extremism and has condemned Boko Haram.
Police said they recovered a weapons cache including assault rifles, grenades, rocket launchers and homemade bombs.
Recently, the extremists have started targeting civilians, especially government workers, Christian pastors, and teachers and their students.
In the video, conveyed via intermediaries, Shekau denies that he is negotiating a peace agreement with officials. “We will not enter into any agreement with nonbelievers or the Nigerian government,” he says, speaking in his native Hausa.
“The Koran teaches that we must shun democracy, we must shun Western education, we must shun the constitution,” Shekau says in the 15-minute video.
At the end, he speaks in English to denounce the West, accusing it of trying to destroy Islam and working “to tactically make the Koran insignificant and unimportant.”