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iSIGHT – INTELLIGENT AIMS

Intelligence Start-Up Goes Behind Enemy Lines to Get Ahead of Hackers

By NICOLE PERLROTHSEPT. 13, 2015

One of scores of intelligence analysts working at his computer at the headquarters of the security firm iSight in Chantilly, Va. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

CHANTILLY, Va. — On a recent Wednesday morning, 100 intelligence analysts crammed into a nondescript conference room here and dialed into a group call with 100 counterparts in Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, India, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Taiwan and Ukraine.

As they worked their way around the room, the analysts briefed one another on the latest developments in the “dark web.”

A security firm in Pakistan was doing a little moonlighting, selling its espionage tools for as little as $500. Several American utility companies were under attack. A group of criminals were up to old tricks, infecting victims with a new form of “ransomware,” which encrypts PCs until victims pay a ransom.

The analysts, employees of iSight Partners, a company that provides intelligence about threats to computer security in much the same way military scouts provide intelligence about enemy troops, were careful not to name names or clients, in case someone, somewhere, was listening on the open line.
John Watters, iSight’s chief, evokes military jargon to talk about his company’s focus. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

For the last eight years, iSight has been quietly assembling what may be the largest private team of experts in a nascent business called threat intelligence. Of the company’s 311 employees, 243 are so-called cyberintelligence professionals, a statistic that executives there say would rank iSight, if it were a government-run cyberintelligence agency, among the 10 largest in the world, though that statistic is impossible to verify given the secretive nature of these operations.

ISight analysts spend their days digging around the underground web, piecing together hackers’ intentions, targets and techniques to provide their clients with information like warnings of imminent attacks and the latest tools and techniques being used to break into computer networks.

The company’s focus is what John P. Watters, iSight’s chief executive, calls “left of boom,” which is military jargon for the moment before an explosive device detonates. Mr. Watters, a tall, 51-year-old Texan whose standard uniform consists of Hawaiian shirts and custom cowboy boots, frequently invokes war analogies when talking about online threats.

“When we went into Iraq, the biggest loss of life wasn’t from snipers,” he said. It was from concealed explosive devices. “We didn’t get ahead of the threat until we started asking ourselves, ‘Who’s making the bombs? How are they getting their materials? How are they detonating them? And how do we get into that cycle before the bombs are ever placed there?’”

“Our business,” Mr. Watters continued, “is tracking the arms merchants and bomb makers so we can be left of boom and avoid the impact altogether.”

ISight’s investors, who have put $60 million into the company so far, believe that its services fill a critical gap in the battle to get ahead of threats. Most security companies, like FireEye, Symantec, Palo Alto Networks and Intel’s security unit, focus on blocking or detecting intrusions as they occur or responding to attacks after the fact.

ISight goes straight to the enemy. Its analysts — many of them fluent in Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese or 21 other languages — infiltrate the underground, where they watch criminals putting their schemes together and selling their tools.

The analysts’ reports help clients — including 280 government agencies, as well as banks and credit-card, health care, retail and oil and gas companies — prioritize the most imminent and possibly destructive threats.

Security experts say the need for such intelligence has never been greater. For the last three years, businesses have been investing in “big data” analytic tools that sound alarms anytime someone does something unusual, like gain access to a server in China, set up a private connection or siphon unusually large amounts of data from a corporate network.

The result is near constant and confusing noise. “Except for the most mature organizations, most businesses are drowning in alerts,” said Jason Clark, the chief security officer at Optiv, a security firm.

The average organization receives 16,937 alerts a week. Only 19 percent of them are deemed “reliable,” and only 4 percent are investigated, according to a study released in January by the Ponemon Institute, which tracks data breaches. By the time criminals make enough noise to merit a full investigation, it can take financial services companies more than three months, on average, to discover them, and retailers more than six months.

“Just generating more alerts is wasting billions of dollars of venture capital,” said David Cowan, an iSight investor and a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. The last thing an executive in charge of network security needs is more alerts, he said: “They don’t have time. They need human, actionable threat intelligence.”

Mr. Cowan and others point to what happened to Target in 2013, when the retailer ignored an alert that ultimately could have stopped criminals from stealing 40 million customers’ payment details from its network.

A year earlier, iSight warned its clients that criminals were compiling and selling malware that was specifically designed to scrape payment data off cash registers. Had Target received that warning, the blip on its network might not have gone unnoticed.

“Target faced the same problem every retailer does every day,” Mr. Watters said. “They are awash in a sea of critical alerts every day. Without threat intelligence, they had roulette odds of picking the right one.”

Gartner, the research firm, estimates that the market for threat intelligence like iSight’s could grow to $1 billion in two years from $255 million in 2013. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 60 percent of businesses will incorporate threat intelligence into their defensive security strategy.

ISight, which plans to file for an initial public offering of stock next year, hopes to capitalize, as do the dozens of other cyberthreat intelligence outfits now flooding the market, each with a slightly different approach.

That proliferation of start-ups has led to a new complaint from computer security chiefs: overlapping information — sometimes as much as 40 percent — in the reports they receive, none of which is cheap. ISight charges customers based on size, and while it does not disclose pricing, some customers say they pay $500,000 or more annually for the company’s services, as much as five times what low-end services charge.

ISight makes 90 percent of its revenue from subscriptions to its six intelligence streams, each focused on a particular threat, including cyberespionage and cybercrime.

The company’s most recent competition comes from its oldest clients, particularly banks, which have been hiring former intelligence analysts to start internal operations. One former client, which declined to be named because of concerns that doing so could violate a nondisclosure agreement, said it had been able to build its own intelligence program at half the cost of its canceled iSight subscriptions.

But most businesses do not have the same resources as, say, a company like Bank of America, whose chief executive recently said there was no cap on the bank’s cybersecurity budget.

Many of those businesses remain paralyzed by the drumbeat of alarms that expensive security technologies are sounding on their networks.

At iSight’s threat center, the company’s approach is perhaps best summed up by a logo emblazoned on a T-shirt worn by one of its top analysts: “Someone should do something.”

WORLD WAR II AD – ACCULTURATION

In the Final Seconds of This World War II-Themed Ad, It Will Be Very Clear Why It Is Going Viral

A World War II-themed ad created by a mobile phone company in Thailand as part of a campaign called “The True Meaning of Giving” has taken the Internet by storm.

Produced by TrueMove, the three-minute spot uses a war story to show that “compassion is the true communication,” with the final moments of the ad tying everything together (we won’t spoil it for you).

As noted by AdWeek, one of the actors wrote in the YouTube comments that the story is in referee to a POW camp in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where prisoners were forced by the Japanese to build a railway bridge.

TrueMove is no stranger to creating compelling advertisements. In September 2013, the company’s “Giving” ad amassed millions of views.

WITHOUT GOD from DIVINE SOPHIA

Without God man is a complete cipher, endless in his ambitions, but with only one aim –

himself.

DRONE DOWN?

Syria claims shooting down of US drone over Latakia

A wheel purportedly from a US drone shot down in Syria Syrian state media carried footage of what they said was debris from drone being taken away

The Syrian military says it has shot down a US drone near the city of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad in north-west Syria.

US officials have said they lost contact with a drone but that it is unclear if it was shot down.

If confirmed it would be the first time Syrian forces have attacked a US aircraft since the start of coalition strikes against Islamic State (IS).

Syria has not been participating in the raids on IS.

The country’s state-run Sana news agency described the unmanned surveillance plane as “hostile”, without giving further details. The Pentagon said it was looking into the incident.

An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft – it is not clear what model has been shot down The Pentagon said they lost contact with an MQ-1 Predator drone over north-west Syria
In a BBC interview last month, President Assad said “general messages” were provided to the Syrians about the coalition strikes via a third party.

A Jordanian jet involved in the coalition strikes crashed in northern Syria last year. IS captured the pilot and later burned him alive.

Chemical attacks

Meanwhile, Syrian activists have accused government forces of using chlorine in an attack in the north-western province of Idlib late on Monday.

Two groups reported that three children were among six people killed when aircraft dropped barrel bombs filled with the toxic chemical on Sarmin.

The Syrian military has denied the claim, describing it as propaganda.

A Syrian man stands next to the remains of a barrel bomb that activists say was dropped on the town of Sarmin on the night of 16 March 2015 A local activist said barrel bombs were dropped on two locations in Sarmin
Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Syria signed the treaty after the nerve agent sarin was used in an August 2013 attack on several suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds of people. Western powers said only the government could have carried out the attack, but it blamed the rebels.

In January, international investigators concluded that chlorine gas had been used in air raids on three villages that were blamed on the government.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council approved a resolution that condemned the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, and threatened military action in case of further violations.

A map showing Latakia and Sarmin in Syria
More on This Story
Syria’s war
War in Syria

ISRAELI ELECTIONS

He still seems to have the advantage in forming a coalition government. Thank God though that the US doesn’t have to go through this kind of thing.

With no clear winner yet, Netanyahu and chief opponent both vow to form next government

Published March 17, 2015
·FoxNews.com

March 17, 2015: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote during Israel’s parliamentary elections in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)

With no clear winner yet declared in Israel’s parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory for his Likud Party early Wednesday, while his chief rival said he would make “every effort” to form the next government.

Exit polls conducted by the country’s three major TV stations late Tuesday showed mixed results in the acrimonious race between the Likud Party and opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union.
Two polls showed the parties deadlocked with 27 seats each in the 120-member Knesset, and a third gave Likud a slight lead of 28-27.

Netanyahu appeared to have fended off Herzog’s strong challenge, the Associated Press reported, but his victory was not guaranteed.

The prime minister said he had invited other rightist politicians to join him in a coalition government “without delay,” according to Reuters.
In an interview published Monday on the NRG news website, Netahyahu said withdrawing from occupied areas to make way for a Palestinian state would only ensure that territory will be taken over by Islamic extremists. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu said “indeed.”

The prime minister doubled down on his remarks in a phone interview with Israel’s Channel 10 television after casting his ballot Tuesday, saying that any state established alongside Israel would “attack us with rockets … Who wants such a thing?”

The statements marked a reversal for Netanyahu, who laid out his support for Palestinian independence in a landmark 2009 speech, shortly after his return to the premiership after a decade away. In the intervening period, two rounds of peace talks have failed and Netanyahu has continued to expand Jewish settlements while portraying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the main obstacle to a peace deal.

Elections day is a public holiday in Israel. Most people don’t go to work, beaches and restaurants fill up, and stores advertise election-day sales.

Israeli election officials said 26.5 percent of eligible voters had voted by midday, a rate similar to previous years. Facebook featured a special “I voted” button in Hebrew, as it has during elections in other countries, in an effort to get out the vote.

Israelis cast ballots for a party list, rather than individual candidates. After an election, it typically takes weeks of negotiation to form a governing coalition and determine who will be prime minister.

Several smaller centrist and religious parties that have not pledged support for either Netanyahu or Herzog will likely tip the scales to determine who will become prime minister.

Polls have consistently show Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party slightly trailing the centrist Zionist Union in the race for the most seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset. In response, Netanyahu has appealed to Likud’s staunchest supporters to “close the gap” and warned about the consequences of what he termed as a “left-wing government” coming to power. He has also talked about an international conspiracy funded by wealthy foreigners to oust him.

Netanyahu’s opponents have attacked him for what they call his inattention to Israel’s high cost of living and growing income inequality. Reports of the extravagant spending habits of the Prime Minister and his wife have done little to endear them to the public, and an expected bump from Netanyahu’s address to Congress about Iran’s nuclear program earlier this month failed to materialize.

Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union has said he would revive peace efforts with the Palestinians, repair ties with the U.S. and reduce the growing gaps between rich and poor.

“Whoever wants to follow Bibi’s path of despair and disappointment will vote for him,” Herzog said after casting his vote, using a popular nickname for Netanyahu. “But whoever wants change, hope, and really a better future for Israel, will vote the Zionist Camp lead by me.”

That call resonated with 51-year-old businessman Ofer Benishti, who voted at a polling station in Kfar Saba in central Israel. He said he was a lifelong Likud voter but was now casting his ballot for the Zionist Union.

“I have had enough,” said Benishti. “Bibi tried and tried and tried, but it just hasn’t worked. It’s time to give someone else a chance. It can’t get worse than this,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

But Meshy Alon, 22, said she was sticking with the prime minister. “He is not great, but he is better than anything else out there,” she said. “I can’t vote for the left … It’s a Jewish country, not a Palestinian one.”

In his interview with Channel 10, Netanyahu ruled out a coalition with Herzog and said he would seek an alliance with the ultra-national Jewish Home party, which also opposes Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu portrayed Herzog as someone who would easily give up territory for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

“We have a different approach,” Netanyahu said. “They (the Zionist Union) want to withdraw. I don’t want to withdraw. If I put together the government, it will be a nationalist government.”

Herzog, meanwhile, signaled he is going back on what had been perceived as an unpopular power-sharing deal with the co-leader of the Zionist Union, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Under that deal, Herzog and Livni would each have served as prime minister for two years if they won the elections.

Meanwhile, police said they arrested an Israeli soldier on suspicion of incitement of violence. The soldier wrote on Facebook that if a leftist were to rise to power, the soldier would follow in the footsteps of Israeli extremist Yigal Amir, who assassinated dovish Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

IWO JIMA

Here’s what it looked like when US Marines landed at Iwo Jima 70 years ago today

Joe Rosenthal Iwo JimaPhotographer: Joe Rosenthal

The Battle of Iwo Jima kicked off 70 years ago, on Feb. 19, 1945.

One of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific theatre of World War II, the 35-day fight for the desolate island yielded 27 recipients of the Medal of Honor, along with one of the most famous photographs ever taken.

According to the The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, American military planners thought the battle would only be a few days. Instead, it dragged on for five weeks, at a cost of more than 6,800 American lives. The Japanese lost more than 18,000.

Here’s what the Marine Corps Historical Company wrote about the first day:

This Day in Marine Corps History. 19 February 1945: At 08:59, one minute ahead of schedule, the first of an eventual 30,000 Marines of the 3rd Marine Division, the 4th Marine Division, and the new 5th Marine Division, making up the V Amphibious Corps, landed on Iwo Jima The initial wave did not come under Japanese fire for some time, as General Kuribayashi’s plan was to wait until the beach was full of the Marines and their equipment. By the evening, the mountain had been cut off from the rest of the island, and 30,000 Marines had landed. About 40,000 more would follow.

amphibious assault Iwo Jima 1945Wikimedia Commons

BOKO HORRENDOUS

Why we don’t put together a coalition force and go in and entirely liquidate these thugees I have no idea.

But I would liquidate them with extreme prejudice. Immediately.

The horrific aftermath of Boko Haram massacre on Nigerian villages: Before and after satellite images lay bare destruction caused by militants in attack that killed 2,500 people

  • Infra-red satellite images show destruction of ‘densely populated’ towns
  • One witness says terrorists shot and killed a woman who was in labour 
  • Estimated 2,500 people killed, and more than 3,700 structures were razed
  • Extremist group, Boko Haram, decimated towns of Baga and Doron Baga
  • One of the towns ‘nearly wiped off the map’, says Amnesty International 
  • Survivors describe fleeing over dead bodies of people ‘killed like insects’ 
  • WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT

The destruction wreaked by Islamist militants in Nigeria when they slaughtered an estimated 2,500 people including a woman while she was in labour has been revealed in shocking new satellite images.

Terror group Boko Haram outraged the world last week when they indiscriminately murdered innocent men, women and children as they attacked the towns of Baga and Doron Baga.

Now, new images obtained by Amnesty International show how the towns were devastated by the assault – with more than 3,700 structures including houses and schools completely destroyed.

Scroll down for video 

Before: Infra-red images show the densely populated village of Doron Baga on January 2 - before the attack

Before: Infra-red images show the densely populated village of Doron Baga on January 2 – before the attack

After: This image taken on January 7, following Boko Haram's assault, shows the village transformed by death and destruction

After: This image taken on January 7, following Boko Haram’s assault, shows the village transformed by death and destruction

Destruction: It's estimated that 2,500 people were killed and more than 3,000 buildings were razed to the ground

Destruction: It’s estimated that 2,500 people were killed and more than 3,000 buildings were razed to the ground

In the pictures taken beforehand, the areas in red show buildings and trees in the densely packed towns in the north of the country.

But in the pictures taken after the massacre, they have been decimated and the infra-red satellite images instead reveal grey areas where the militants savagely razed the towns.

The destruction shown in these images matches the horrific stories from eyewitnesses revealing how Boko Haram militants shot hundreds of civilians in cold blood.

One witness described how the ruthless terror group were shooting indiscriminately, killing even small children and a woman who was in labour.

He added: ‘Half of the baby boy is out and she died like this.’

Ibrahim Gambo, a 25-year-old truck driver, survived the relentless attack in Baga but he still doesn’t know if his wife and daughter are safe.

He said: ‘As we were running for our lives, we came across many corpses, both men and women, and even children.

‘Some had gunshot wounds in the head and some had their legs bound and hands tied behind their backs.’

Yahaya Takakumi, a 55-year-old farmer, revealed to Nigeria’s Premium Times how he managed to flee Baga with one of his wives – but does not know if his four children, his second wife or his elder brother managed to escape.

He said: ‘We saw dead bodies especially, on the islands of Lake Chad where fishermen had settled. Several persons were killed there like insects.’

Mr Takakumi said the Islamic extremists opened fire on vessels carrying fleeing residents across the lake.

Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International, said this was the ‘largest and most destructive’ Boko Haram assault his organisation has ever analysed.

He added: ‘These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days.

‘It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins.

Turmoil: map showing Nigeria and the location of Baga which was devastated by brutal Boko Haram fanatics

Turmoil: map showing Nigeria and the location of Baga which was devastated by brutal Boko Haram fanatics

Wave of terror: The yellow dots in this satellite image, taken after Boko Haram's onslaught on Baga, show around 620 structures damaged in the attack

Wave of terror: The yellow dots in this satellite image, taken after Boko Haram’s onslaught on Baga, show around 620 structures damaged in the attack

Razed: A similar image shows the compete destruction of the neighbouring village of Doron Baga - also known as Doro Gowon

Razed: A similar image shows the compete destruction of the neighbouring village of Doron Baga – also known as Doro Gowon

‘Up until now, the isolation of the Baga, combined with the fact that Boko Haram remains in control of the area, has meant that it has been very difficult to verify what happened there.

‘Residents have not been able to return to bury the dead, let alone count their number. But through these satellite images combined with graphic testimonies a picture of what is likely to be Boko Haram’s deadliest attack ever is becoming clearer.’

BOKO HAREM’S TRAIL OF MURDER AND MAYHEM ACROSS NIGERIA 

February 2014: The Jihadist group raided the Nigerian village of Izghe in the north of the country and murdered dozens – before going door-to-door and killing anyone they came across.

April 2014: Nearly 300 schoolgirls are abducted from the town of Chibok, which Boko Haram burned to the ground.

August 2014: The terror group kidnapped at least 97 people during raids on villages in Borno State. They killed 28 boys and men.

November 2014: 120 people killed in a bomb attack on a central Mosque in Kano – the principal city of northern Nigeria.

January 4, 2015: Boko Haram kidnaps 40 boys and young men, believed to be aged ten to 23, from a village in the Nigerian state of Borno.

Experts have estimated the brutal assault killed more than 2,000 people with reports of locals running over dead bodies to escape the carnage.

Another survivor – a man in his fifties – told Amnesty: ‘They killed so many people. I saw maybe around 100 killed at that time in Baga. I ran to the bush. As we were running, they were shooting and killing.’

He hid in the bush and was later discovered by Boko Haram fighters, who detained him in Doron Baga for four days.

Those who fled describe seeing many more corpses in the surrounding bush area, and one woman said: ‘I don’t know how many, but there were bodies everywhere we looked.’

In Baga, a densely populated town less than two square kilometres in size, approximately 620 structures were damaged or completely destroyed by fire.

And in Doron Baga, more than 3,100 structures were damaged or destroyed by fire that ravaged most of the four square kilometre town.

Mr Eyre added: ‘This week, Nigeria’s Director of Defence Information stated that the number of people killed in Baga, including Boko Haram fighters, ‘has so far not exceeded about 150’.

‘These images, together with the stories of those who survived the attack, suggest that the final death toll could be much higher than this figure.’

Boko Haram fighters have repeatedly targeted communities for their perceived collaboration with the security forces.

Thousands of people have fled the violence across the border to Chad and to other parts of Nigeria.

Many of the wooden fishing boats along the shoreline, visible in the images taken on January 2, are no longer present in January 7 images – tallying with eye witnesses’ testimony that desperate residents fled by boat across Lake Chad.

Amnesty are calling on Boko Haram to stop killing civilians. They insist the deliberate slaughter of of civilians and destruction of their property by Boko Haram are war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be duly investigated.

They are calling for the Nigerian government should take all possible legal steps to restore security in the north-east and ensure protections of civilians.

Boko Haram drew international condemnation when its fighters kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a boarding school in north-east Chibok last year. Dozens escaped, but 219 remain missing.

THE ‘MAD’ BOKO HAREM JIHADI LEADER WHO’S OVERSEEN THE SLAUGHTER OF 16,000

The man orchestrating the deadly Boko Haram massacres in Nigeria is a boastful lunatic who revels in slaughter and chaos and is a ‘master of disguise’.

Bloodthirsty Abubakar Shekau is one of the world’s most wanted men, with American authorities putting a $7million bounty on his head.

Master of disguise: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau points at the camera as he delivers one of his regular fanatical rants to the world

Master of disguise: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau points at the camera as he delivers one of his regular fanatical rants to the world

Shekau – said to be to fluent in four languages – also operates under a variety of different names which has only increased the mystery surrounding his true identity.

The elusive Islamist fanatic has led his brutal Boko Haram militants since 2009 into war in Africa, killing more than an estimated 16,225 people in that time.

The latest outrage he has led was the massacre of an estimated 2,500 people in northern Nigeria when his thugs razed two towns.

Last week, the terror group shocked the world when they are believed to have used girls as young as 10 as suicide bombers in two deadly attacks in northern Nigeria that killed at least 19 people.

Experts claim psychotic Shekau rarely communicates directly with members of the terror group and instead deals only with a handful of confidantes – much like former Al Qaeda terror chief Osama bin Laden.

Files on the US State Department of Justice claim he variously operates under identities that include Darul Tawheed, Abu Bakr Skikwa, Imam Abu Bakr Shiku, Abu Muhammad Abu Bakr Bin Muhammad Al Shakwi Al Muslimi Bishku and Abubakar Shakkau. 

The four languages he speaks are listed as Arabic, Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri. Even his age remains unknown, with predictions between 38 and 49 believed to be most accurate.

Shekau is believed to have a wife and three children, although their whereabouts also remain unknown. 

The Nigerian military has claimed several times to have killed the fanatic – only for him to appear in new videos proving he is still alive.

After one recent claim, he appeared in video to taunt the military’s claims and laughed: ‘Here I am, alive. I will only die the day Allah takes my breath.’ 

Boko Haram – which means ‘Western education is forbidden’ in Arabic – have shocked the world with their merciless slaughter of innocent men, woman and children across the north of Nigeria.

Shekau claimed leadership of the terror group in 2010, and was seen last week in a video praising the jihadists who murdered 17 people in the Paris attacks.

He has been variously described as ‘fearless’, a ‘gangster’ and a ‘loner’, which security sources believe give him an air of invincibility which makes him extremely dangerous.

The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium has described Shekau as a ‘religious intellectual, yet also a gangster and vigilante as well as a mad leader’. 

Under Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram has continually targeted young children. In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped close to 300 girls from their school in northern Nigeria.

Innocent victims: Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this image taken from a video released by Boko Haram. The girls went missing in April 2014.

Innocent victims: Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this image taken from a video released by Boko Haram. The girls went missing in April 2014.

Support: Michelle Obama supported the #bringbackourgirls campaign after the kidnap

Support: Michelle Obama supported the #bringbackourgirls campaign after the kidnap

In a video message released three weeks later, Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, calling the girls slaves and threatening to sell them. 

Their disappearance prompted a social media campaign with #bringbackourgirls, which was supported by Michelle Obama, First Lady of the USA.

Rumours also abound that Shekau escaped from the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri during the 1990s.

The fanatic regularly appears in videos to taunt the Nigerian military over their failings to prevent his group’s killings.

In one of Shekau’s first videos, believed to have appeared online in 2012, the insurgent leader boasted of his bloodlust and said: ‘I enjoy killing…the way I enjoy slaughtering chickens and rams.’

It is believed the terrorist was born in Shekau village that borders Niger to poor farmer parents. They are then thought to have migrated south into northeast Nigeria.

A religious young man, he studied basic Islamic theology, before focusing on more hardline Sunni ideology and becoming a preacher.

In a 2012 interview, Grema Kawudima said Shekau was remembered as ‘an easy-going fellow who would exchange banter with people in the neighbourhood. He was popular…a local theology student’.

After his religious studies, he is then understood to have attended Borno State College of Legal and Islamic Studies for higher studies on Islam.

He became increasingly radicalised and seized control of Boko Harem after founder Mohammed Yusuf was killed in a security crackdown on the terror group in 2009.

Since then, Shekau has pursued a relentless campaign of terror as the group has strengthened its deadly grip in Nigeria.

History of violence: In December 2014, two female suicide bombers - allegedly under the instruction of Boko Haram - killed at least four people in a busy market in Nigeria's busiest city, Kano (pictured)

History of violence: In December 2014, two female suicide bombers – allegedly under the instruction of Boko Haram – killed at least four people in a busy market in Nigeria’s busiest city, Kano (pictured)

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