YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Boko Haram reportedly is working to enlist traditional and religious leaders in northern Cameroon to recruit new members amid continued military pressure on both sides of the border.
Abdouraman Ousman, a Muslim religious leader, says members of the militant group kidnapped him from his home in Kerawa on the border with Nigeria last year.
The militants told him that he could go home if he would recruit for them, Ousman said. He refused, but was freed in February during a raid by soldiers.
Imams and traditional rulers are being manipulated by Boko Haram fighters to convince naïve, young people to join the terrorist group, Ousman says, adding that Boko Haram targets traditional rulers, too — not only for ransoms, but to get them to help recruit members.
Some imams reportedly return to Cameroon and lie to young people, telling them they will earn $500 per month if they join Boko Haram, or they try to trick youths into thinking they are joining the military.
The Islamic Council of Traditional Rulers and Muslim dignitaries invited Ousman and about 200 other community leaders from the north to Yaounde this week to talk about how to counter Boko Haram's influence.
The government needs the help of local leaders, according to Inoussa Assabe of the Islamic council.
"They have to go toward the traditional rulers,” Assabe said. “Government has to come in and send security people who are not in uniform just to get investigations and know exactly what is going on."
At Monday’s meeting, the council said several religious and traditional leaders in the north have been arrested on suspicion of working for Boko Haram.
The government said the suspects are cooperating with authorities and will face charges in court, but would not say how many people have been detained.