Suspected Islamist Boko Haram fighters have abducted dozens of boys and men in a raid on a remote village in northeast Nigeria, loading them onto trucks and driving them off, witnesses who fled the violence said Friday.
The kidnappings come four months after Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok. They are still missing.
Several witnesses who fled after Sunday's raid on Doron Baga, a sandy fishing village near the shores of Lake Chad, said militants clothed in military and police uniforms had burned several houses and that 97 people were unaccounted for.
"They left no men or boys in the place; only young children, girls and women," said Halima Adamu, sobbing softly and looking exhausted after a road trip of 180 kilometers, or 110 miles, on the back of a truck to Maiduguri, capital of the northeastern state of Borno.
"They were shouting 'Allah Akbar' [God is greatest], shooting sporadically," Adamu said. "There was confusion everywhere. They started parking our men and boys into their vehicles, threatening to shoot whoever disobey them. Everybody was scared."
The witnesses said six older men also were killed in Sunday's raid, while another five people were wounded.
A proven approach
Boko Haram, seen as the No. 1 security threat to Africa's top economy and oil producer, is fighting to reinstate a medieval Islamic caliphate in religiously mixed Nigeria. Once a grassroots movement, it has rapidly lost popular support as its attacks on civilians dramatically increased in the past year.
Its tactic – forcing boys to fight and abducting girls as sex slaves – serves as a chilling echo of Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. This "army" has operated in the same way in Uganda, South Sudan and central Africa for decades.
The Nigerian military did not respond to a request for comment. A security source said officials were aware of the incident but were still investigating.
United Kingdom, U.S. offer help
“I am appalled to see reports of another large abduction by terrorists in the northeast of Nigeria,” British Minister for Africa James Duddridge said in an emailed statement.
"Officials at the British High Commission in Abuja are urgently looking into the details," the statement continued. "The UK stands firmly with Nigeria as it faces the scourge of Boko Haram."
Britain and the United States have offered help to try to find the missing Chibok girls, but there has been no success yet.
The kidnappers overpowered local vigilantes, villagers said, noting there is no military presence.
Talatu Abubakar, another villager who fled to Maiduguri, said the invaders had taunted the men for being unable to defend themselves: “They were shouting, 'Where is your pride? You people used to be warriors. Today you are all just women, not as brave as we thought.’ ”
Abubakar said 47 people were missing from his Hadeija clan and were feared to have been abducted.
Boko Haram shows agility
The raid shows how mobile Boko Haram units can be.
After a military offensive in May last year broke their hold on the area around Lake Chad in Borno state’s far northeast, the rebels relocated to the state’s south, near the Cameroon border nearly 300 kilometers, or 190 miles, away. Chibok, the village from which the girls were taken, is in this area.
The rebels’ reappearance in the area demonstrates their ability to move across vast swaths of northeastern Nigeria without military interception.
Nigerian forces are overstretched against a determined foe. Security sources say that in the past week, they have fought gun battles with Boko Haram Islamists in two key southern Borno towns: Gwoza and the garrison town of Damboa, which the militants sacked a month ago.