(CNSNews.com) – A new Boko Haram propaganda video released Monday, showing some of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls it abducted last month wearing Islamic garb and chanting the Islamic declaration of faith, also features an al-Qaeda banner.
The banner held up behind the reciting girls by two of their number, is the black-and-white one first used by al-Qaeda in Iraq about seven years ago but since displayed by al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya.
Bearing the Arabic script for the Islamic declaration of faith or shahada – “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger” – it is the same flag that was hoisted at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo during an anti-U.S. protest on Sept. 11, 2012, after the American flag was destroyed.
Western security officials have long suspected that Boko Haram has links to al-Qaeda’s affiliated in North Africa and Somalia – al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab.
As early as June 2012, then-U.S. Africa Command commander Gen. Carter Ham was voicing concern publicly about indications that Boko Haram, AQIM and al-Shabaab were “seeking to co-ordinate and synchronize their efforts.”
The three groups may be sharing funds, training and explosive materials, Ham told a seminar at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, calling the situation “a real problem for us and for African security in general.”
After resisting lawmakers’ calls to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization for almost two years, the State Department eventually did so last November.
A State Department reward offer for information leading to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau being brought to justice refers to “reported communications, training, and weapons links” between Boko Haram, AQIM, al-Shabaab, and the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Those links, it says, “may strengthen Boko Haram’s capacity to conduct terrorist attacks.”
In the new video Shekau said the girls seen in the clip – estimated at around 130 – had converted “willingly” to Islam and were “happy, because we treated them very well in the manner women are supposed to be treated.”
“These girls have become our own property, as it is the injunction in the Qur’an,” he continued. “We decide what to do with them, yes I repeat, they are now our slaves and acquired property. Whatever we wish, we will do with them. As I have said earlier we can even sell them if we wish.”
Shekau offered to exchange some of the captives for Boko Haram terrorists held in Nigerian prisons – but made it clear that the offer only applied to those girls who had not converted to Islam.
Those who had converted – “submitted” – he said, had already been “liberated” since they were now Muslims, and had become the fighters’ “sisters.”
Most of the girls abducted from a secondary school in north-eastern Nigeria a month ago are believed to have been Christians.
Shekau’s words were translated from Arabic and Hausa by Nigerian media, including the Leadership newspaper.
‘This is the religion of Allah, this is jihad’
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday the administration has no reason to question the video’s authenticity.
“Our intelligence experts are combing through every detail of the video for clues that might help in ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls,” she said.
As for Shekau’s offer to trade girls for prisoners, Psaki said “the Nigerian government has the lead here.”
But she noted the U.S. policy “is to deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts, including ransoms or concessions.”
The U.S. has a 27-person inter-agency team on the ground in Nigeria, providing the authorities with “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support” as they hunt for the schoolgirls, Psaki said.
Britain has also sent a team to Nigeria, and a spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan said Sunday he had accepted an offer by Israel to send a team with counter-terrorism expertise to support the effort.
In the video Shekau was scathing of international criticism and offers of assistance.
“Let [President] Obama, [U.N. secretary-general] Ban Ki-moon, Goodluck Jonathan, know that there is nothing you can do to us, because this is the war of Allah and not human. This is not capitalism, this not socialism, this is not democracy, this is not United Nations Charter – this is the religion of Allah, this is jihad.”
“Let the world know that we are ready for whatever troops that are being deployed to fight us,” he continued. “We don’t fear American troops. Let even King Pharaoh himself be sent down here, we will deal with him squarely.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday that the U.S. has no plans to send special forces to help in the operation.
“I think you look at everything,” Hagel said on ABC’s This Week. “But there's no intention, at this point, to be putting any American boots on the ground there.”