Nigerian government and military sources have dismissed news reports on the abduction of over 500 women and children by Boko Haram insurgents from Damasak in Borno State, when the terror group was driven out of the town by Chad and Nigerien troops recently, THISDAY reports:
A statement by PRNigeria, a media advisory for government security agencies, quoting a military source, said yesterday [Mar. 25] that troops from the two neighbouring countries are in charge of security and protection of the border town of Damasak in accordance with the dictates of the memorandum of understanding establishing the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) against terrorism in the North-east. According to the statement, the clarification on the abduction became necessary in view of a trending speculation in major international media that another 400 children and women were kidnapped and led away by Boko Haram terrorists while fleeing from Damasak recently liberated by Chadian and Nigerien troops.
The military personnel who spoke wondered how fleeing terrorists who were pounded by Nigerian Air Force aircraft before being overwhelmed by forces from the two MJTF participating troops could have led away over 400 individuals along with them in the process. “Although we are not officially responding to such baseless assertions because it has become normal for some interests to manufacture something so that their media will have something negative to report about Nigeria.
“It is nevertheless important to let them know that troops from Niger and Chad have been in charge of protecting that town and we wonder how they would have allowed Boko Haram the luxury of such mass kidnapping? “Were the abducted individuals herded away on foot or packed in trailers or small trucks?” the source wondered.
Similarly, Mike Omeri, Coordinator of the National Information Centre (NIC), yesterday denied reports of a mass kidnapping in Damasak, as Boko Haram militants fled the military offensive. “There is no fresh kidnapping in Damasak,” Omeri told AFP, referring to the town recently retaken by forces from neighbouring Chad and Niger.
But Omeri said Nigeria had no information about a mass abduction. A senator who represents the area and a senior intelligence source also cast doubt on the reports. The contradictory claims shed light on the difficulty of establishing facts in the brutal, six-year conflict, with communications infrastructure devastated in the northeast and travel restricted.
Officials, the military and locals frequently give contrasting information. The militants do have a track record of mass kidnappings, however, including the high-profile abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in April last year from the Borno town of Chibok. Omeri noted Boko Haram’s widely reported tactic of forcibly conscripting young boys during their hit-and-run attacks and attempts to indoctrinate them into the group’s radical ideology.
Many Boko Haram fighters are believed to be on the run as a result of the offensive by Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, who have routed the insurgents from dozens of towns. Several sources said it was possible, and perhaps even likely, that scores of Boko Haram conscripts were missing, feared kidnapped by the militants across the region.
But they denied a specific mass abduction in Damasak, where the Chadian military last week said that about 100 bodies, some of them decapitated, were found in a mass grave. Senator Maina Lawan, whose constituency includes Damasak, said: “I will be extremely surprised that such a huge number of my constituents would be abducted without me being informed. “It is very unlikely that Boko Haram would have abducted such a huge number of people from Damasak because most of the people had fled months ago when Boko Haram took over.”
A senior intelligence source in Borno’s capital Maiduguri said there was “no iota of truth” to the mass abduction claims.