By Ruth Maclean and Eric Schmitt
An affiliate of the Islamic State in Nigeria has claimed responsibility for the execution of 11 people, saying the killings were in retaliation for the death of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria in October.
A video released on Thursday showed members of the Nigerian affiliate slashing the throats of 10 people and shooting an additional person. A voice-over says the killings are a “message for Christians” and that all of those killed were Christian, although Nigerian experts said some of them were probably Muslims, based on previous episodes involving the group.
The Islamic State, or ISIS, has lost all of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, but it remains a threat even after Mr. al-Baghdadi was killed in an American raid on his hide-out in northwestern Syria. In addition to the affiliate in Nigeria, which is known as the Islamic State West Africa Province, groups in the Philippines, Afghanistan, Sinai and the Sahel, a 3,000-mile stretch of land south of the Sahara, also claim allegiance to ISIS.
The members of the Islamic State West Africa Province, which is known by the acronym ISWAP, left the Islamic militant group Boko Haram in 2016. According to the International Crisis Group, it has between 3,500 and 5,000 fighters. Its leaders split from Boko Haram in part because they disapproved of the violence that the group and its harsh leader, Abubakar Shekau, has meted out to Muslims, according to analysts.
The executions could herald a possible return to the harsher methods of Boko Haram, according to experts.
Abdulbasit Kassim, a co-author of “The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State,” said that other Islamic State provinces had released videos of revenge for the killing of Mr. al-Baghdadi. Mr. Kassim said there was a strong possibility that ISWAP was under pressure to do the same.
“I think there’s a demand from IS Central: ‘ISWAP, where is your submission for revenge for Baghdadi?’” said Mr. Kassim, referring to the main body of the Islamic State. He added that he believed ISWAP was making two types of propaganda, one aimed at obtaining ransoms from the Nigerian government, and one to satisfy Islamic State demands.
The video was released to Ahmad Salkida, a Nigerian journalist who often publishes information about both ISWAP and Boko Haram. According to Mr. Salkida, ISWAP had shown interest in negotiating a prisoner swap, but abruptly changed course and executed the prisoners instead.
The 56-second video shows the captives, who were blindfolded and wearing orange tunics, kneeling on the ground, their captors standing behind them in black balaclavas.
A fighter in the middle lifts a handgun and shoots the prisoner in front of him in the head. The video then cuts to the fighters standing behind the other 10 prisoners. Holding each captive by the face or hair, the fighters slit their throats.
In the version of the video seen by The New York Times, which was published on Amaq, an ISIS propaganda arm, a man speaks over the recording.
“This message is to the Christians in the world,” he says in both Arabic and Hausa, a Nigerian language, according to the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadists and white supremacists. “Those who you see in front of us are Christians, and we will shed their blood as revenge for the two dignified sheikhs, the caliph of the Muslims, and the spokesman for the Islamic State, Sheikh Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, may Allah accept them.”
A day after the death of Mr. Baghdadi, considered the caliph by his followers, the man thought likely to be his successor, Mr. al-Muhajir, the group’s spokesman, was killed in a separate raid.
Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he thought that “I.S. is trying to grab headlines during the holidays when usually there isn’t much news.”
The State Department condemned the attacks. “We are appalled by the vicious ISIS-West Africa attack targeting Christians in Nigeria,” Tibor Nagy, the State Department’s top Africa policy official, said in a Twitter message.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria said in a statement, “These barbaric killers don’t represent Islam and millions of other law-abiding Muslims around the world.”
There has been an upsurge in violence in northeast Nigeria over the past year, and particularly in the last six months, contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation there, with armed groups setting up checkpoints to target and abduct civilians, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Antonio Canhandula, said this week.
In Burkina Faso, another West African country plagued by groups of armed militants, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on Tuesday that killed seven soldiers that it said ISWAP fighters had carried out.
Tens of thousands of civilians, the majority of them Muslim, have been killed by both Islamist militants and Nigerian security forces in three northeastern states of Nigeria since 2009.
By New York Times
Ruth Maclean reported from Dakar and Eric Schmitt from New York.
Eric Schmitt is a senior writer who has traveled the world covering terrorism and national security. He was also the Pentagon correspondent. A member of the Times staff since 1983, he has shared three Pulitzer Prizes. @EricSchmittNYT