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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Islamist Boko Haram shows no mercy in Nigeria, wrecking churches, homes, lives


When Boko Haram invaded her village last year, the Islamist extremists burned the churches, destroyed Bibles and photographs and forced Hamatu Juwanda to renounce Christianity.
"They said we should never go back to church because they had brought a new religion," the 50-year-old said. "We were going to be converted to Islam."
The head of the village, a Muslim, presented her with a thick nylon hijab to cover her head and renamed her Aisha.

She submitted, smarting with rage. Women who didn't wear the hijab were beaten.
"When I went to the market, I wore the veil," she said. "But at home, I took it off and prayed."
The gunmen returned time after time to the village of Barawa, shooting people, burning houses and wearing down the resistance of the villagers.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed 12,000 people and shattered the northern economy. Schools have been shut down because of attacks that have seen hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped and schoolboys burned alive in their dormitories.

Nigeria spends $5.2 billion a year on security, but because of endemic corruption, much of that doesn’t make it to the military’s coffers.

When Boko Haram assaulted a village called Attagara, Michael Yohanna said he and others begged military commanders to defend it.
"They said they had not been given a command," said Yohanna, an activist in the town of Gwoza. "Even as the attack was going on, they never came." He said at least 150 people were killed in Attagara.

"As I'm talking to you now, no army has entered there," he said. "The insurgents came in military vehicles with an armored personnel carrier. They went to the central church and ordered a man to gather people. Then they just shot them.
"Women and children are just languishing in the caves and hills," he said. "There's no food. The insurgents looted all the food, they looted all the property."

As Christian families left Barawa one by one, Juwanda stayed as long as she could, clinging to her house and land, but the attacks grew more frequent. The last straw was witnessing the abductions of women.
When she finally fled the village in May, she was so petrified that she forgot to take the only photo of her brother, her last surviving sibling. It was hidden under a mattress so the militants wouldn't see it.
She crossed the border into Cameroon. As soon as she reached safety, she tore off her black-and-white-checked hijab, felt cool air on her throat and breathed free.
She was safe.
"I was very happy," said Juwanda, who later made her way to Abuja. "I felt the good, fresh air as if I'd come to a marvelous place I could hardly imagine."

Juwanda is relieved to have escaped Barawa. But she remembers the things she lost: her husband, her small plot of farmland, her house, her Bible, all her clothes, a beaded cross she used to wear before she was forced to take it off.

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