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In Nigeria, Boko Haram Continues Its Campaign Of Terror

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

World attention has been focused on terrorism in Paris. But at the same time, the terror group Boko Haram has murdered scores of people in Nigeria just this month. There have even been reports of girls as young as 10 who've been pressed into service as suicide bombers.

Alex Perry writes for Newsweek and is the author of "The Hunt For Boko Haram." He joins us from the studios of the BBC in Southampton. Thanks very much for being with us.

ALEX PERRY: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Amnesty International originally estimated more than 2,000 people were killed in those attacks. How do you see it?

PERRY: Well, they've dialed back a bit from that number, but they have actually released some satellite photographs of the destruction in this town Baga. And as opposed to the Nigerian military's estimate of a death toll of 150, I have to say the photographs tend to support what Amnesty is saying. The destruction is unbelievable. I mean, there are thousands and thousands of buildings that have just been laid waste like a hurricane has been through.

SIMON: Mr. Perry, I think a lot of people remember all those signs that people held up last year and all the posts on social media - bring back our girls - after young women were abducted. Did that do anything for the young women?

PERRY: What you can say that that campaign did was it put pressure on the Nigerian government in a way that that government hadn't felt pressure before. I mean, basically, the state in Nigeria didn't notice even for 19 days after those girls were kidnapped. I mean, this is a spectacularly corrupt and indifferent government. And so that did bring some pressure to bear on the Nigerian state to do something.

Having said that, it didn't actually do anything afterwards. The advisors that were sent - military advisors from around the world from the U.S., the U.K., I think France, Israel, even China - very quickly turned round to their respective capitals and said, you know, it's very difficult for us to work with these people. There's every possibility that any kind of assistance we will offer will be swallowed into corruption.

There's even a chance of us being prosecuted under things like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if we go into bed with people who, after all, are committing human rights abuses themselves. And there is a reasonable argument to put that - for instance, the Nigerian army is one of the bigger criminal organizations in Nigeria.

SIMON: Yeah, I'm sorry if this question sounds naive, Mr. Perry, but why would anyone in Nigeria become a part of Boko Haram?

PERRY: In northeast Nigeria, where they come from, there is genuine public grievance against, as I say, a very corrupt and indifferent government. Northeast Nigeria, in particular, stands out for deprivation and destitution so there is a genuine, well-established grievance against a government that after all, sits on some of Africa's biggest oil reserves and has for 50 years enriched itself and completely ignored its people.

However, Boko Haram has transformed itself from what was a peaceful protest - a heavily Islamic accented protest - their response to this was to try and dial back the clocks. They basically said all enlightenment, all modernization has only opened the gates to corruption and greed, and we should dial back the clock 500 years. Mohammed Yusuf, their former leader, didn't believe the world was round. He didn't believe in evolution. He didn't think water evaporated.

They were really deliberately, willfully sort of luddite and obscurantist. And when Mohammed Yusuf was killed in 2009, that was kind of a signal for Boko Haram to go through a transformation from a peaceful movement to a violent one. But they took that kind of obscurantist nihilism into violence, and violence now is the point. There is no means to an end here. The end is the killing. If you look at the videos that Boko Haram puts out, there's ritualistic beheading. They use cutlasses when they go to war. It's a death cult.

So that's a very long answer to your question is why would anybody want to join them? Right now, I don't think anybody wants to join them, but they are compelled to. You said in your earlier report, you know, there's a 10-year-old girl being used as a suicide bomber. I mean, this is - this is almost beyond comprehension here. And the point is just to outrage, and with outrage to get attention.

SIMON: Alex Perry joined us from the studios of the BBC in Southampton. Thanks so much for being with us.

PERRY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.