THE Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), one of the two Boko Haram factions operating in Nigeria, has abducted an aid worker and a policeman in Borno State, Northeast Nigeria, The ICIR has learnt.
One of the kidnapped persons was said to be on the staff of the Nigerian Red Cross but Chima Nwankwo, Head of Communications at the humanitarian organisation denied it , saying no worker in the agency was abducted. He disclosed, however, that staff of a “side organisation” was kidnapped but he did not mention its name.
The two separate incidents happened on December 2 at Kareto, a village about 80 kilometres from Damasak, headquarters of Mobbar Local Government Area. They were taken away when the vehicles they were traveling in were stopped a checkpoint mounted by the insurgents.
According to eyewitnesses, ISWAP fighters had mounted a checkpoint the previous day and stood there observing vehicles and passengers passing by before returning the following day with some pictures. They compared the pictures with passengers in all the vehicles they stopped, an indication that they were looking for specific individuals.
“They finally found one passenger who matched one of the pictures. When they told him that he was a staff of Red Cross, he denied, so they brought another picture of him in a Nigerian Red Cross uniform. At that point, he did not say a word. So, they went away with him,” an eyewitness told The ICIR.
Later that day, they stopped another vehicle and identified a passenger they said was a Nigerian Police Force personnel. The man denied being a policeman but they told him they recognised him at the Damasak police division and went away with him.
Drivers in Maiduguri confirmed the incident to The ICIR and said all their members refused to ply the Maiduguri-Damasak road the next day out of fear. While some drivers have since resumed, others have refused to ply the road.
According to The ICIR’s findings, ISWAP was very active around Kareto for three days before the abductions. Due to the rife insecurity in the area, which has made it difficult for civilians to live there, the Nigerian military on 29 November sent soldiers from its base in Damasak to clear and prepare the village for military deployment.
However, the following day, 30 November, ISWAP fighters attacked the town and burnt down the entire village, including the newly built houses meant for civilian occupation.
As of the time of filing this report, drivers continued to report that the checkpoint is still present at Kareto.
The ICIR has documented several cases of kidnappings for ransom by both factions of Boko Haram in addition to dozens of armed robberies against civilians at checkpoints and villages. Villagers and passengers are forced to part with their food, money, mobile phones, livestock and even the clothes on their backs.
While the Abubakar Shekau-led Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (JAS) faction targets everybody for abduction, ISWAP only goes after non-Muslims.
However, both groups do not spare security forces personnel, government officials and humanitarian workers irrespective of their religion.
The ICIR also gathered that on 4 and 5 December, ISWAP stopped all trucks transporting relief materials to Damasak at Kareto and set them ablaze. This has resulted in the refusal of truck drivers to risk the journey in the last two days.
“They asked me today (7 December), ‘where are the trucks carrying NGO goods and why have they stopped coming?’ Anyone that passes through here will be stopped and burnt down,” a commercial taxi driver, who returned from Damasak, told The ICIR in Maiduguri.
In 2018, two Red Cross staff members were kidnapped and killed in Rann, Borno State by Boko Haram along other humanitarian workers and soldiers. In June, 2020, five aid workers were abducted and later killed in the North east.