By Suzan Edeh
*Survivors moved to Abuja …*Security agencies on the trail of kidnappers
Within 24hours, they claimed responsibility. Jama’atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladissudan, Ansaru, for short, which translates as Vanguards for the protection of muslims in black Africa, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven expatriates in Bauchi State. It was another sordid chapter in the unfolding confrontation between Islamist insurgents and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Coming at a time when Jamaatu Ahlil Sunna Lidawati wal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, promised a ceasefire, it was a rude awakening to the authorities when the Bauchi kidnapping occurred.
The kidnapping of seven foreigners is the biggest of its kind since the insurgency of Islamic militants reared its head in Bauchi State nay the North. It occurred on the 16th of February in Jama’re town, about 200 kilometres north of Bauchi, just as the incident has sent a signal to foreigners that the North is a dangerous place.
The expatriates were kidnapped at a Lebanese construction site in the night.
It was learnt that the company for which the foreigners worked was handling a road project that runs from Shuwarin in Jigawa State to Azare in Bauchi State. The Labanese company, Setraco International Holding Group, has its headquarters at the outskirts of Jama’re local government area of Bauchi where the kidnapping took place.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the Setraco headquarters, there were more than 20 mobile policemen who cordoned off the site. The walls of the company were shattered as a result of the bombs the gunmen used to gain entrance.
There were also gaping bullet holes on the walls of the flats the foreigners lived in. There were only two residential buildings close to the company, one of which was the live camp where the foreigners stayed. The other was a local prison station.
The Chief Security Officer of the live camp, Ahmed Alhuda, narrated how the incident happened.
According to him, “the incident happened when all the workers of the company had closed for the day”.
Alhuda went on: “Around 10pm, I received information that gunmen had attacked the live camp where the expatriates were residing. When the gunmen attacked the camp, some of them came from the north side of the site and bombed the walls while others attacked from the south side, bombing that section too to gain full entrance.
“When they gained entrance into the premises of the company, they headed to the club of the camp where they met four of the expatriates and kidnapped them. From there, they proceeded to one of the flats in the camp and kidnapped a husband and wife.
“One other victim was kidnapped in his flat, making seven of them. The security guard, John Amalu, whose identity was mistaken for a mobile policeman was killed in the attack.
“Some of the gunmen attacked the prison station close to the live camp by shooting sporadically to scare the prison staff. They also attacked a police station in the heart of the town and burnt two cars at the station.”
The Human Resources Manager of Secrato in charge of Kano/Maiduguri project, Mr. John Yama, also gave an account of the incident.
According to him, “The kidnapping of the expatriates in our live camp is the most terrible situation we have ever experienced.
“On that fateful Saturday, around 9.30pm, we started hearing gunshots and everybody in the premises of the company became rattled. We later got information that our camp was invaded and seven expatriates abducted. A security guard on duty was killed. We are making preparations to convey the guard’s corpse to his town in Kogi State for burial”.
The chairman of Jama’re local government area, Adamu Aliyu, revealed the kidnapped victims as one Briton, one Greek, one Italian and four Labanese, saying the seventh victim is a woman.
Aliyu described the attack as unfortunate and advised residents of the area to remain calm and co-operate with the security operatives in order to fish out the culprits.
Confirming the attack, the Bauchi State Police Commissioner, Mohammed Ladan, said the gunmen attacked a police station and a prison, before storming the construction camp in Jama’re.
He said,”Yes we suffered an attack, but our policemen repelled the attack on the police station in Jama’are and Kafin Madaki . The gunmen also attacked a prison and the security men at the prison yard, but the attack was also repelled. They burnt two vehicles in Jama’are police station and attacked Setraco construction company, killing a local security guard and kidnapping seven people.”
Ladan said the police had commenced investigations into the attack.
In a rather audacious manner, the group issued this statement on Twitter and signed by one Abu Usamatal Ansary:
“Base on the transgression and atrocities done to the religion of Allah SWT by the European countries in many places such as Afghanistan and Mali etc.
“By Allah’s grace Jama’atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladissudan have the custody of seven persons, which include Lebanese and their European counterparts working with Setraco in Nigeria on 8th of Rabiul Thani, 1434 equivalent of 7th February, 2013.
“It is stressed that any attempt or act contrary to our condition by the European Nations or by the Nigerian Government will lead to the happenings as it was in the previous attempt.”
The “previous attempt” the group referred was the killing, in Sokoto State, of Franco Lamolinara, an Italian, and Christopher Mcmanus, a Briton.
There are suggestions in intelligence quarters that Ansaru may have been responsible for the killing of the Europeans last year, after being help captive for over 10months.
Ansaru is believed to have links to the late Osama Bin-Ladin’s Al-Qaeda, Sunday Vanguard can reveal.
Both hostages who were killed were construction engineers with B. Stabilini Construction Company Nigeria Ltd, and were engaged in the construction of the Kebbi branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. They were abducted in May, 2011.
Sources also claimed the group was a breakaway faction of the Jamaatu Ahlil Sunna Lidawati wal Jihad.
And whereas President Goodluck Jonathan had in two separate letters to the families of the deceased expressed his heart-felt condolence, Sunday Vanguard had been made to understand that “a wave of arrests carried out in the wake of 2011 kidnap by the Department of State Service, DSS, resulted in the capture of the group’s leader, Abu Mohammed”.
One of the sources revealed: “It was Abu Mohammed, with links to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who provided very useful information about the hideout of the kidnappers of the deceased Briton and Italian.
“It was that very useful piece of intelligence that formed the basis for a co-ordinated rescue operation.