LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The leader of an Islamic extremist group in Nigeria says his group has started kidnapping women and children as part of its bloody guerrilla campaign against the country's government, according to a video released Monday.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau says the kidnappings are retaliation for Nigerian security forces routinely imprisoning the wives and children of his group's members. The video shows 12 children, a mix of boys and girls, though it does not identify them or say where they came from.
"If they do not leave our wives and children, we will not leave," Shekau says in the Hausa language of Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north.
Police and security forces have not announced any kidnapping cases involving Nigerians taken after Boko Haram attacks, though such abductions could be easily done in the chaos after an assault. Shekau quoted the Quran in the video and said anyone taken by the group could begin a new life as a "servant," without going into detail.
Nigerian security forces often arrest children and wives to draw out criminal suspects in other matters, human rights activists say. Security forces also have been accused of abuses in their fight against Islamic extremists.
In the video, a Kalashnikov assault rifle sits over Shekau's right shoulder as he speaks, the background covered with a rug. It's unclear when the video was shot, though Shekau claims attacks Boko Haram launched on the towns of Bama and Baga in northeastern Nigeria in recent days.
In late April, at least 187 people were killed in fighting in Baga, a town in Borno state that sits along the banks of Lake Chad. Witnesses say soldiers angry about the death of a military officer set fire to homes there and killed civilians. Human Rights Watch recently said an analysis of satellite imagery before and after the attack led them to believe the violence destroyed some 2,275 buildings and severely damaged another 125.
Nigeria's military has blamed the blazes on rocket-propelled grenades fired by extremist and denied killing civilians, despite growing criticism and evidence showing mass civilian casualties.
Boko Haram leader Shekau said in the video that his fighters only launched a "small" attack there at night and had nothing to do with the civilian killings.
"The next morning security forces, they entered there, they burned down house," Shekau says. "They killed that they wanted to kill and in the end, they came and said it was Boko Haram. It's a lie."
Boko Haram's attacks have been increasing in number and sophistication since 2010. Attacks blamed on the group and other Islamic extremists have killed at least 244 this year alone, according to an Associated Press count.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .