At least 35 travellers were abducted Friday evening by gunmen who ambushed commuters along the Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway, witnesses and security sources have said.
The abductions, the latest in a series of attacks on travellers on the key highway, followed an earlier assault on Friday, according to witnesses. Not less than 50 cases of abduction of travellers have occurred along the same highway in 2020 alone.
Last week, suspected Boko Haram fighters kidnapped two aid workers travelling from Damaturu to Maiduguri, and later used the Facebook page of one of the aid workers, to announce that they had killed them and “their corpses would never be found.”
Travelling the 135km stretch of road between the state capitals is considered extremely dangerous if such a journey is done before 9 am or after 2 pm when the route is busy.
Security sources say earlier on Friday, the terrorists had staged a surprising attack on travellers at about 11 a.m. along the road. That incident was considered unusual given the time. The morning attack caused panic as motorists had to linger for a while from both ends of the highway.
By at about 5 p.m. of the same day, witnesses and security sources said the militants returned to the highway and mounted a roadblock at a town called Garin Kuturu near Jakana.
Sources familiar with the development said one of their first victims was a Dangote Group of Company truck whose driver was shot at before the vehicle was set ablaze.
“The insurgents who were dressed in military uniforms drove out of the bush in five Hilux vans,” said a witness who pleaded anonymity for security reasons. “They later waylaid nine commercial vehicles and forced away from the passengers into the bush.”
A military source who confirmed the development to PREMIUM TIMES, in confidence, said the “the passengers initially sighted a burning fire, but they thought it was bush burning, not knowing it was an ambush.
“However, as the other cars were approaching the scene, they suddenly sighted the insurgents moving towards them on trucks mounted with weapons. Before they could turn their vehicles to run, the insurgents had already caught up with them.
“Many of the passengers fled into the bush, but about 35 of them were abducted. Two private vehicles and one truck were also set ablaze. Nine other passenger vehicles belonging to the abducted travellers were also abandoned at the scene while their properties were looted,” the senior military officer said.
Danbatta Bello, a spokesman for the Civilian-JTF, confirmed the incident to PREMIUM TIMES.
Speaking on phone, Mr Bello said, “the situation along Maiduguri-Damaturu highway has gone out of control – the attacks have become a daily affair.”
“Though we have deployed our personnel in the Rapid Response Squad to patrol the road, especially the identified flashpoints, the insurgent would still spring a surprise attack on other unusual spots of the highway,” he said.
The top operative of the Civilian-JTF blamed the recent spike in the frequency of such attacks on the amnesty given to some of the so-called “repentant” members of terrorist group by the federal government through its Operation Safe Corridor programme.
“Some of us have said it time and again that you cannot be pardoning known Boko Haram insurgents when the war is still ongoing, but no one listens to us,” he said.
“Most of the attacks occurring especially along the Maiduguri-Kano are being coordinated by the insurgents in the bush and those pardoned and allowed to come and live in the communities. The one in towns and villages usually give credible intelligence on vehicular movements and which direction the patrol teams have taken. That’s why each time they strike it becomes very difficult for patrol teams to go for the rescue,” he said.
Bunu Bulama, another top official of the local vigilante in Maiduguri, also confirmed the incident, saying about six vehicles were filled with passengers and taken into the bush.
“I cannot say the exact number of persons abducted but I know they are many,” he said.
“Last night the driver of the Dangote trailer whose vehicle was shot made a distress call at night informing some of his colleagues who later contacted us that he was shot but managed to escape. He said he was bleeding seriously and needed help. We quickly alerted the Crack Squad of the police, but I doubt if they could rescue him that night.”
A call made to the Police Public Relations Officer, Ini Ekong, to find out what the police command was doing about the recent attacks, was not answered as the officer’s line repeatedly rang out.
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