Geopolitics

Meet The Vigilantes On The Front Line Fighting Boko Haram

Some Nigerians have lost hope that the state military can stem the Islamist insurgency. This group of vigilantes has stepped in, relying on 'speical powers' to help see the enemy.

Meet The Vigilantes On The Front Line Fighting Boko Haram
Lorenzo Simoncelli

YOLA — A few hours after the electoral commission decided to postpone the presidential elections scheduled for Feb. 14, the air here in the northern Nigerian state of Adamawa starting feeling even heavier. Thanks to a tip, intelligence services discovered that Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram had been planning an attack in the city of Yola that could have been capable of destroying a ten-story building.

Traveling towards the north of the country, approaching the Boko Haram strongholds you can only see yello marwa (local motorcycle taxis) and young girls in veils — who, on several occasions, have been used as human bombs to sow death and panic in the region.

After barren miles of roadway, where the only sign of life is dry trees struggling to survive the savannah heat, the first Nigerian army checkpoints appear. Many accuse the military of being in collusion with the terrorist group, especially after Amnesty International revealed that they had prior knowledge about the atrocious attack last month in the town of Baga that some believe left 2,000 civilians dead.

Few here wear bullet-proof vests, but for the most part everyone is armed with AK-47s. We got past the checkpoint, though not without difficulty, and approached the village of Mumbi — which was razed by the Islamists a few months ago — and began to view the first tangible signs of the offensive. Torched cars, abandoned houses still smoldering, cut electrical wires. On some of the walls of the houses was black writing in Arabic: "We fight for Islam" — an indelible mark that says Boko Haram was here.

Some people are walking slowly through the deserted streets. "We came back to get some clothes and see if some of our relatives are still alive before we go back to the mountains to hide," one person tells us, "Boko Haram haven't reached there yet."

Most people fled, crossing the border into Cameroon and then coming back into Nigeria through the southern border before finding shelter in Yola, where they were welcomed into camps organized by the government and local community. There are about 120,000 displaced people here, although if you include those in the neighboring states of Yobe and Borno the figure reaches over a million.

Machetes and rifles

At the entrance to the city of Hong, 150 kilometers from Yola, we began to see the first vigilantes — local Fulani men with scant resources available trying to fight the incredibly well-equipped militants. A small army of about 200 men wearing ragged green uniforms stand around; some wield machetes, others basic rifles. At first glance they seem like not much more than a ragtag army, but in reality they're part of a bigger group whose name is printed on their uniforms: Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force).

After we're thoroughly searched, some shouts arise, "Sarkin Baka, Sarkin Baka." In the local language, this means general. The general's name is Ade and fatigue is all over his 38-year-old face. He invites us to come and sit in his office — an unprotected tin hut. "Have you seen my boys?" he asks. "They're strong."

He spares few details, hoping the words will reach ears that matter beyond Nigeria. "Before the arrival of Boko Haram, we were hunters. We went into the forest to gather food but now our people are going there to escape," says the general of the vigilantes. "Until a few years ago, some of our guys were fascinated by the idea of an Islamic State, but then we realized they were slitting our throats like goats. And when the army wouldn't help us, we decided to arm ourselves against them."

Does the government support them? "They have never given us anything: not weapons, not cars, not money, not food," says Ade. "Those who remained in the villages collected food for us to eat, and others provided us with means of transport."

Is it true that they tried to use magical charms to try and stop Boko Haram? He rolls up the sleeve of his uniform, points out a layer of leather embedded underneath. "The leather has a special effect and thanks to a mixture on it we can repel bullets," he says. "It's the same mixture we put on our eyes before fighting so we can recognize Boko Haram fighters — you know they wear the same uniforms as the army?"

The uniform trick is why some believe so many people were brutally killed in the January attack at Baga, since locals believed the military had come to free them, but instead met the Islamist insurgents.

We hear screaming — Ade's vigilantes have recognized an affiliate of the terrorist group who has come into the village, probably to gather food stocks. He lets us know that it's time to go, but after one last question. Did he know that the elections have been postponed? "We'll do everything we can to protect our people, and let them go and vote freely."

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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