Islamist Militants Launch Massive Kidnapping of Girls in Northeast Nigeria

A crisis is brewing in northeastern Nigeria as local media reports of suspected Islamic militants abducting dozens of victims near a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) emerged this week.

Local media outlets said armed fighters surrounded a large group of young girls and some boys before heading back to the surrounding bushland with their captives. The militants reportedly let some elderly people go.

The victims were primarily women who lived in Babban Sansani IDP camp in the town of Gamboru Ngala. However, local media outlets said residents of other IDP camps were reportedly taken away. The town is located near Nigeria’s border with Chad and Cameroon.

Authorities in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno, where Islamist insurgent groups Boko Haram and its offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), reported that the attack took place on the afternoon of March 1st. There were also reports from international media outlets such as CNN of attacks by suspected Islamist militants on March 4th.

The exact number of people kidnapped or missing remains unknown, and both media outlets and officials cite varying figures, with an official of the Civilian Joint Task Force reporting that 50 people have been taken away. On the other hand, the United Nation's Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mohamed Malick Fall, estimated that more than 200 people have been abducted. One resident of Gamboru Ngala told the BBC that Boko Haram fighters reportedly took 113 people.

The Civilian Joint Task Force official, who refused to be named as he was reportedly unauthorized to speak to the media, said the group went to Lake Chad to collect firewood, where the ISWAP has been known to operate. From there, gunmen ambushed them and made them walk across bushy paths into neighboring Chad. 

Three women managed to escape from the suspected jihadists. Falmata Bukar told Reuters through the phone that the fighters “surrounded us, and we were asked to follow them to the bush.” She was able to escape them with two other women the following day.

The abductions came after Babaganza Zulum, Borno’s state governor, said late last year that while his state has been a "hotbed" for Boko Haram, which has been waging an Islamist insurgency against the Nigerian government since 2009, the security situation in the state "had improved by 85%.” and that no community state has been under the control of the militants.

The incident, which is also one of the largest mass kidnappings made by Islamist militants since Boko Haram fighters abducted 276 girls from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in April 2014, also came after reports of ex-Boko Haram fighters living in camps reportedly threatened to return to fighting if they don’t get enough support from the Nigerian government.

Amnesty International released a report in 2023 saying they were failing to protect women and children from Islamist militants, adding that militants are still holding 98 of the Chibok girls abducted by fighters since 2014.

"Since the Chibok school girls were abducted by Boko Haram, a plethora of schools have been targeted, with girls being abducted, raped, killed, or forced into 'marriages.' The Nigerian authorities, however, have not carried out a single credible investigation into the security failures that left children vulnerable to the atrocities committed by Boko Haram and gunmen," the report said. 

The Nigerian Army, the Borno state government, and the Nigerian federal government have yet to respond to requests for comment on the matter.

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