Boko Haram is rightly notorious for its barbarism: whole-sale murder of adolescent boys in schools, the kidnapping of hundreds of girls, beheadings, throat-slittings, and stonings all captured on video for propaganda purposes. There is evidence that Boko Haram is imposing amputations and other cruel and unusual punishments allegedly mandated by Islamic law in the territories it controls. It is revolting that Boko Haram claims that through such methods it is establishing God’s kingdom on earth through justice of the poor by means of the strict application of Islamic law.
Nigerian media is now reporting that last week the Nigerian military killed forty-one alleged Boko Haram operatives in a firefight. Following the firefight, members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF, irregular militia that assist the security services) beheaded the corpses. They displayed the severed heads on sticks in local villages. The purpose, according to a member of the CJTF, was to demonstrate that Boko Haram operatives “are human and not beasts and so people should not fear them.” There have also been earlier reports of security service members making “trophy videos” of their abuse of alleged Boko Haram operatives.
At least the CJTF beheadings were of those already dead. Nevertheless, their actions are particularly reprehensible because they are established instruments of the Nigerian state, which is ostensibly democratic and acknowledges the rule of law. The CJTF beheadings are altogether beyond the law and probably constitute war crimes. Such actions erode the distinction between a legitimate Nigerian state and a fanatical organization that does not hesitate to use terror to advance its agenda.