MAIDUGURI (AFP) – Boko Haram Islamists kidnapped scores of people from fishing communities in Nigeria’s extreme northeast, hauling some of the hostages away on boats across Lake Chad, witnesses said Friday.
Several people were also reportedly killed in the militant raids on a number of villages in the Kukawa Local Government area in Borno state, a Boko Haram stronghold.
The remote area has poor mobile phone coverage, and details of the attacks that took place on Sunday have taken days to emerge.
A few survivors travelled to Borno’s capital Maiduguri, where they briefed reporters on the latest mass abduction by the insurgents, who caused global outrage in April when they kidnapped 276 girls from their school.
They are still holding 219 girls.
“At first we thought (the attackers) were soldiers… But when they began shooting at people and setting fire to homes we realised they were Boko Haram,” Halima Alhaji Adam, from the village of Doron Baga.
Adam said the militants kidnapped roughly 100 young men aged between 15 and 30.
Her account was supported by two other local women and a man who also reached Maiduguri as well as a leader of a vigilante force which is helping the military in the counter-insurgency fight.
Abubakar Jatau, from Baga, said 97 men and boys were taken in the raid, which began late on Sunday and continued into the early hours of the following morning.
“They killed 28 people, including four they slaughtered along the shores of Lake Chad. The 24 others were shot dead inside the village during the attack,” he said.
There was no official corroboration of the death toll or any comment from the military on the attacks.
The hostages “were forced into motorboats and taken into Chad,” Adam said.
Another woman who escaped, Fatima Suleiman, said locals feared the hostages would be used as “foot soldiers” by the extremists, who regularly carry out strikes on military and civilian targets in the impoverished area.
– Forced conscription –
Mohammed Gava, the Maiduguri-based vigilante leader, said a number of girls and women were also taken.
Jatau said the multi-national joint task force, made up troops from Nigeria, Chad and Niger and which is nominally responsible for security in the area, rescued 23 of the female hostages.
The others backed up his account, with Suleiman saying about 20 people were rescued.
The force was formed more than a decade ago — long before Boko Haram became a threat — to crack down on cross-border smuggling.
The survivors who spoke to AFP said soldiers from this force deployed to the area after the attacks and clashed with Boko Haram fighters on Wednesday when the insurgents returned.
The troops “gave them a good fight,” said Suleiman.
Boko Haram, which says it wants to create an Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, has been accused of kidnapping hundreds of people in the northeast to use as conscripts, wives and slaves.
Forced conscription is also becoming an increasing problem in neighbouring Cameroon, where the authorities say that hundreds of young men and boys have been recruited in the north, which is home to Boko Haram safe havens.
The April 14 abduction of the schoolgirls from the remote Borno town of Chibok drew unprecedented attention to the conflict and offers of help from major Western powers.
But the violence has continued unchecked. This year is thought to be the deadliest ever in the conflict, although solid estimates of casualties are hard to obtain.