Islamist militant group Boko Haram has reportedly slain at least 33 wives of Islamic State fighters in a bloody revenge attack as fighting between the rival groups continues to escalate.
The massacre is thought to have been instigated earlier this week by top Boko Haram leader Ali Ngulde, who after ambushing a group of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters in northeastern Nigeria’s Sambisa forest sent his troops to a nearby camp to execute their wives.
It comes after Boko Haram commander Malam Aboubakar and more than a dozen other militants were killed by ISWAP fighters following failed negotiations, according to Zagazola Makama, a security analyst based in Lake Chad.
ISWAP fighters were once part of Boko Haram but splintered off and quickly grew into a formidable rival of the Islamic militants by enticing other Boko Haram members into defecting while drumming up support in local civilian populations.
Nigerian soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they seized after retaking the town of Damasak, Nigeria, March 18, 2015
Protestors demonstrate against Boko Haram in the Nigerian state of Katsina, December 2020, after hundreds of schoolboys were abducted by gangs on orders from Islamic militants
Northeastern Nigeria is the epicentre of a jihadist insurgency launched by Boko Haram group in 2009.
Boko Haram is one of the largest Islamic militant groups in Africa and seeks to topple the secular Nigerian government in favour of an Islamic regime with a strict adherence to Sharia law.
More than 40,000 people have died and around two million have been displaced in the long-running conflict, which has spilled into neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
The group is renowned for its brutality, having committed a series of terror attacks and massacres, and has a history of kidnapping civilians – particularly young women and girls.
A Reuters investigation earlier this week also revealed that the Nigerian army has run a secret, systematic and illegal abortion program, terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls who were kidnapped and raped by the Islamist militants.
Men gather near dead bodies of people who were killed by an Islamic militant attack, during a mass burial at Zabarmari, in the Jere local government area of Borno State, in northeast Nigeria, November 29, 2020
The former leader of the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, is pictured at an undisclosed location in Nigeria. Shekau died last year
The rivalry between Boko Haram and ISWAP is a relatively new development and one that has added another violent complication to the ongoing war between the Islamic militants and Nigerian authorities.
ISWAP is a splinter of Boko Haram based in and around Lake Chad which separated from the main group and established deeper ties with civilian populations to cultivate its power and influence, according to a report by the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DSAT).
Seeing ISWAP’s rise to prominence, some militants defected to join the splinter group, adding to its strength and turning it into a legitimate threat with the resources and support to challenge Boko Haram and Nigeria’s military.
The two warring groups are now competing for influence in northeastern and northwestern Nigeria and have fought a series of brutal battles in recent months – though they share the same goal of implementing an Islamic regime in Nigeria.
ISWAP was able to cultivate its strength by forging a favourable relationship with civilian populations around Lake Chad and northeastern Nigeria.
The group treats local populations with more mercy and allows for them to develop businesses and trade while seeking to improve local services.
Boko Haram meanwhile continues to live up to its ruthless reputation.
Last month, the jihadists slaughtered at least 26 women by slitting their throats after a commander accused them of being witches who caused the sudden death of his children.
Around 40 women were held in a village near Gwoza town in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria, on the orders of jihadist commander Ali Guyile, 26 of whom were slaughtered (file image of people internally displaced by Boko Haram militants)
The senseless massacre, which began on Thursday November 10 and continued on Saturday 12, came on the orders of Boko Haram commander Ali Guyile, according to relatives and a woman who escaped.
Talkwe Linbe, one of the accused women, said she managed to escape and fled to the regional capital Maiduguri.
‘He (Guyile) said he would investigate our involvement in the deaths of his children,’ she said.
‘On Thursday he ordered 14 among us to be slaughtered. I was lucky I was not among them.’
On Saturday, the day Linbe arrived in Maiduguri, 12 more women were slaughtered accused of being witches, other relatives said, taking the death toll to 26.
‘I received a call from Gwoza that my mother, two aunts and nine other women were slaughtered yesterday (Saturday) on the orders of Ali Guyile who accused them of being witches,’ Abdullahi Gyya, who lives in Maiduguri, told AFP.