Australian Stephen Davis risked life in attempt to rescue kidnapped Nigerian girls

Stephen Davis

 

A Perth-based international adviser has survived months of extreme danger to try to rescue more than 270 schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Stephen Davis, 63, has returned from a four-month sojourn with rare footage of the intense fighting in Nigeria’s north-east, as Boko Haram stepped up efforts to establish an Islamic state.

Dr Davis, who has a PhD in political geography, has worked as an adviser to the past two presidents of Nigeria.

He established extensive contacts with tribes and terrorist groups in Africa, including three small cells of Al Qaeda, while working as a trouble-shooter for oil and gas company Shell in the Niger delta.

When news broke in April about the girls’ kidnapping from a school in the village of Chibok, near the Cameroon border, Dr Davis, who had recently moved to Perth from London, decided he could not sit on his hands.

During the journey his life was threatened more than once, but his Australian passport saved him.

They told me they’d be prepared to release some as a goodwill gesture towards a peace deal with the government.

Stephen Davis

“When confronted by groups with an AK-47 in my face they’d say, ‘you are American, we have to kill you’,” Dr Davis said.

“When you say, no I’m not American, they think you are British, and say you will still die, but when I said I’m Australian, they said that’s all right.

“I have no idea why but it’s certainly been helpful.”

The devout Christian managed to smuggle out of the country footage of a handful of schoolgirls who escaped from Boko Haram.

They detail the atrocities they endured, including being raped almost on a daily basis.

Release agreed as ‘goodwill’ gesture

Following media reports that nobody knew where the girls were, he decided to reach out to his contacts.

“I made a few phone calls to the Boko Haram commanders and they confirmed they were in possession of the girls,” he said.

“They told me they’d be prepared to release some as a goodwill gesture towards a peace deal with the government, so I went to Nigeria on the basis of being able to secure their release.”

Arriving in Nigeria, Dr Davis quickly set up talks with commanders and he believed he had brokered a deal.

Fearing being arrested, the Boko Haram commanders – holding the girls across the border in Cameroon – had a list of conditions.

They wanted the military stood down and promised to drop the girls in a village before phoning to give their exact location.

Dr Davis said they lived up to their promise, but in a country ravaged by war and corruption, the rescue was sabotaged.

“The girls were there, 60 girls, there were 20 vehicles with girls,” he said.

“We travelled for four-and-a-half hours to reach them, but 15 minutes before we arrived they were kidnapped again by another group who wanted to cash in on a reward.

“The police had offered a reward of several million Naira just 24 hours before we went to pick them up.

“I understand, from the Boko Haram commanders I spoke to, the girls eventually ended up back with them.

“I don’t know what happened to the group that took them but I suspect it wasn’t good.”

Four girls escaped by heading west

Dr Davis said a young man kidnapped by Boko Haram and used as a driver later helped a handful of girls escape.

One kidnapped girl, who managed to avoid having her mobile phone confiscated by turning it off and hiding it in her bra, managed to call her family while hiding in bushes, but had no idea where she was or which direction she should be heading.

After being told to walk west by following the sunset each evening the four girls managed to cross the border from Cameroon and into Nigeria before being reunited with their families.

So far they are the only girls to have escaped from a Boko Haram camp.

When Dr Davis later tried to contact, via text, the young man who helped them, he received a sobering reply.

“The person you are trying to contact has gone on a journey from which there is no return,” the reply read.

“He was an infidel.”

Dr Davis said the longer he stayed in Nigeria the more it dawned on him the kidnappings would not end.

“It became very clear that if I was able to get 50 girls released then another group would kidnap 70 or 80 more,” he said.

“So by freeing 50 you were consigning 70 or 80 more to the same fate.”

Atrocities going unreported

Dr Davis said initially journalists from around the world including CNN, the ABC and the BBC flooded into the country, but they concluded it was far too dangerous to send any crews into the north-east of the country.

He said since then, the violence in north-east Nigeria and the threat of foreign journalists being kidnapped and beheaded meant there had been limited coverage of the crimes being committed by Boko Haram.

“Boko Haram used to telephone Nigerian journalists and give them a story, but that doesn’t happen anymore,” he said.

“They go straight to social media. They post their own material and they’ve learnt to become very savvy on social media and use it as an instrument to terrorise.”

Dr Davis said he had realised the only way to stop the kidnappings was to stop the sponsors of Boko Haram.

While Al Qaeda was involved in training Boko Haram recruits, Dr Davis said one of their major sources of funding – aside from raiding banks – was Nigerian politicians.

“That makes it easier in some ways as they can be arrested, but of course the onus of proof is high and many are in opposition, so if the president moves against them, he would be accused of trying to rig the elections due early next year,” he said.

“So I think this will run through to the election unabated.

“These politicians think that if they win power they can turn these terrorists off, but this has mutated.

“It’s no longer a case of Muslims purifying by killing off Christians. They are just killing indiscriminately, beheading, disembowelling people – men, women and children and whole villages.

“I would say it’s almost beyond the control of the political sponsors now.

“Terror groups are linking up in Somalia, southern Sudan, Egypt and we have fairly strong evidence they are talking with ISIS members.

“They will link up with ISIS and Al Shabaab and I think that what we are seeing in that region is the new homeland of radical Islam in the world.”

SOURCE

Mosul’s two kidnapped Chaldean nuns released

Update

Two kidnapped nuns who managed an orphanage for girls in Mosul, and two women and a boy, who were kidnapped on June 28 have been released.

According to ankawa.com no ransom was paid for the release of the five Assyrian victims who are in good health and are now in the city of Dohuk.

The two Chaldean Catholic nuns Sister Outor Joseph and Sister Meskenta, as well as Hala Salim, Sara Khoshaba and Aram Sabah, were kidnapped while inspecting the monastery late at night.

The nuns relocated the children to Dohuk for safety after the ISIS’ invasion in mid June, but WWM sources quote a man who met one of the nuns at a gas station. He asked her what she was doing and she told him that she was going back to Mosul to look after the monastery. He had begged her not to go, but she’d said she wasn’t afraid.

There is as yet no confirmation of who was behind the disappearance of the nuns and their companions.

Iraqi Christian leaders appeal to Europe as nuns kidnapped

Leaders of Catholic churches in Iraq have flown to Europe to report on the Iraqi crisis, to try to find solutions for the country’s rapidly declining number of Christians. Their visit came amid reports that two nuns in Mosul, accompanied by two women and a boy, have been unaccounted for since Jun. 28.

They are believed to have been kidnapped by militants of the radical jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. More recently, the group has taken to calling itself the Islamic State, or IS.     

On July 9, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad, Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul, and Bishop Youssif Mirkis of Kirkuk in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, held meetings in Brussels with high-level representatives of EU institutions and NATO. They discussed the situation and prospects for Christians in Iraq since the invasion of Mosul by IS last month and of the Ninevah Plains to the north, where there has been a high concentration of Christians. Many of the Christians had earlier fled Baghdad and other southern cities for the relative safety of the north. The Brussels meetings were organized by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

The IS invasion has triggered a flood of Christians from the south of Iraq into the Kurdish-governed north-east, as well as neighboring countries. Christian leaders are concerned that the 2,000-year presence of Christianity in Iraq will become merely symbolic as the community flees the jihadist militants who continue to bring disorder and instability in Iraq.

A decade ago, around 2003, Iraq was home to 1.5 million Christians. After years of war and sectarian violence only about 400,000 are said to remain, and that number is now dropping rapidly.

“The next days will be very bad. If the situation does not change, Christians will be left with just a symbolic presence in Iraq,” Reuters quoted Sako as saying during the Brussels meetings. “If they leave, their history is finished.”

Mouche said many of those who fled Mosul wanted to return, but when they did, they found no water and hardly any electricity, just fear. In Kirkuk’s safer Kurdish zone, Christians are leaving at a rate of several hundred a day, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

“Our presence was a symbol of peace, but there’s so much panic, and few Christians see their future in Iraq,” Reuters quoted Mirkis.

Meanwhile sources close to World Watch Monitor said there is still no news of two nuns, Sisters Outor and Meskenta, who have been missing from IS-controlled Mosul since June 28. The nuns ran an orphanage for girls and had fled Mosul to Dohuk in the north earlier in June. It is believed that the IS kidnapped them when they returned to check on the situation of their orphanage. They were accompanied by two women, Hala Salim and Sara Khoshaba, and a child named Aram Sabah, who are also missing.

Local church authorities tried to obtain their release immediately after their disappearance, through confidential channels of mediation, but so far have been unsuccessful according to Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical mission societies.

The news service refuted, however, a false report that a priest and nun had also been kidnapped from Mosul. It reported that all priests left at the beginning of the offensive led by the jihadists.

Yesterday, July 10, reports emerged that last week militant members of IS appear to have dug up the grave of the Biblical prophet Jonah (revered by Muslims and Christians alike), in the east of Mosul. An Iraqi official Zuhair al-Chalabi is quoted by Iraqi News as saying “The elements of ISIL controlled the mosque of the Prophet Younis (Jonah) in Mosul since they invaded the city. It is still held by them until now…elements of ISIL engaged in the process of tampering with the contents of the Mosque.”

“There is almost certain information stating the fact that the elements of ISIL dug up the grave of the Prophet Younis” Chalabi added.

The jihadist group has reportedly also destroyed graves and shrines of other prophets in Iraq. The militants believe worshipping relics and tombs is against the teachings of Islam.

The jihadist group has declared Sharia law in Mosul, and in at least one reported case is said to have forced Christians to pay the jizya tax for non-Muslims.

Currently in Mosul all construction work has stopped, leaving many unemployed.  There is an increased demand for black colored clothing including veils and hijabs for women who are not allowed to walk in the streets unless accompanied by a male. All barber shops and women’s salons have closed, Christian Iraqi news source AINA has reported. AINA obtained information from a report prepared by the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, an NGO based in Baghdad which monitors the human rights situation in Iraq, particularly of minorities. 

In the Nineveh plains water and electricity continue to be severely limited. Residents who have dug wells are unable to purify the water for safe drinking. Relief efforts are not adequate, according to the report published on July 8. A handful of relief and church organizations are scrambling to help.

Open Doors International, which works with Christians under pressure for their faith worldwide, is one of them, partnering with local networks to distribute emergency relief. One of the partner workers reported.

“Shortly after the occupation of Mosul, refugees started coming to our church. It was a strange sight for me to see the church halls filled with people, it was so crowded! People aren’t sleeping on beds, but put whatever they can find on the floor and sleep like that. Still they don’t complain, they are relieved that they are out of the threatening situation around Mosul. A woman came to me and said: ‘It’s much better here than were I came from: we have electricity, running water and the church has air-conditioning. This was all destroyed in the place near Mosul I came from and at least we’re safe here.’

…When it was time to distribute the relief packages, the families quickly gathered around us in the garden of the church. It was overwhelming. I saw the desperate faces of the old men and the mothers who came to collect their food and I felt so sorry for them. All were arguing over who should get a food package first. It was difficult for me to see them but at the same time I was happy that I could help them. It was really an honor for me to do that. The priest tried to calm them down. And then we started distributing the packages: rice, tomato sauce and even some canned meat was inside. The next Sunday when I went to church to worship one of the women came to me and told me how happy she was with the help she received: ‘It was exactly what we needed’ she said.”

On Wednesday, July 9, Canon Andrew White, known as the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, posted on his Facebook page “sadly the crisis here continues.” On July 8 he posted that the IS had destroyed many of the Shia Mosques in Mosul and had taken control of the churches.

“I wondered why I had not heard about churches being destroyed, then this morning I discovered why,” he posted. “They have set up their bases and headquarters in the churches.”

He said that while there are “huge problems” in the north, Baghdad has its own share without the presence of IS.

“Where we are in our compound it is safe, but we can hear the gun battles going on around us. Each day the homicide bombs continue, the murders increase; this month alone over 2,700 people have been killed and over one million people have been forced to leave their homes.”

He continued: “We do not know what each day will bring. The tragedy and despair is all around, but despite all of this we know for sure that the Lord is here and His spirit is with us. This I say so many times and we totally mean it.”

Israel Prime Minister Promises to Help Search for Kidnapped Girls

 

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has promised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to aid in the search for the missing schoolgirls.

In a phone conversation with Jonathan, Netanyahu said, “Israel expresses its deep shock at the crime against the girls. We are prepared to help in locating the girls and to fight the cruel terror which has struck you.”

According to Israel National News, President Netanyahu accepted Israel’s offer for aid. A statement from Netanyahu’s office said, “President Jonathan welcomed the offer by Mr. Netanyahu to send a team of Israeli counter-terrorism experts to assist in the ongoing search and rescue operations.”

“The president briefed Mr. Netanyahu on actions already being taken by Nigeria’s armed forced and security agencies to locate and rescue the girls, saying that Nigeria would be pleased to have Israel’s globally acknowledged anti-terrorism expertise deployed to support its ongoing operations.”

The U.S. has deployed military forces in the area to search for the kidnapped girls as well.

Nigerian militant group Boko Haram is responsible for the capture of about 200 girls which occurred on April 19.

 

SOURCE

Boko Haram Releases Video of Kidnapped Schoolgirls, Looking to Bargain for Their Release

Boko Haram has released a video of about 100 of the Nigerian kidnapped schoolgirls wearing full head scarves and reciting the Quran. The 17-minute video was shot an at unknown location and features leader Abubakar Shekau proposing a deal: the return of the girls for the release of imprisoned militants.

According to CNN, the Boko Haram leader claimed that the Christian girls have been converted to Islam. They chant in the background, “Praise by to Allah, the lord of the world.”

Experts continue to search Nigeria and the surrounding countries for the abducted young women. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sent two military troops to search and reportedly feels confident about the girls’ return. The U.S. has sent military forces to aid in the search as well.

About 200 girls were captured on April 14 from their Chibok school while taking exams. In the weeks since, the kidnapping sparked global outrage as people demanded the militant group return the young women to their homes and families.

 

SOURCE