Jihadists linked to Islamic State have abducted hundreds of people in a town in northeastern Nigeria. Local militia say the armed group came with more than 20 trucks on Tuesday evening to take away the hostages. Security experts say the abduction signifies an attempt by jihadists to re-establish their strongholds in the region after years of military campaigns.
The northeastern town of Kukawa, where the attack took place Tuesday evening, lies in Borno state, close to the shores of Lake Chad.
Local militia say Islamic State fighters, dressed in military uniforms, battled soldiers guarding the town before taking hundreds of hostages.
One of the militia fighters, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the soldiers suffered losses.
He says what has happened is very disheartening. I hear people saying the soldiers killed were 10 in number, he says, but honestly, they are more than 10 and their military vehicles and motorcycles were also taken.
Most of the people kidnapped had recently returned after fleeing Kukawa during a bloody attack by Boko Haram fighters in 2018.
For two years, Nigerian authorities have been encouraging displaced people in the northeast to return to their homes, following military operations that degraded the strength of jihadist groups.
But security expert Lawrence Alobi in Abuja says the effort to resettle internally displaced persons came too soon.
"They took things for granted, knowing fully well that this place has been an area where the terrorists or the bandits had controlled and these people who are being resettled were attacked — that's why they were moved to the IDP camps," said Alobi. "From the security point of view, you need to think ahead and plan ahead, you have to anticipate crisis. You need to anticipate that if they come back, what happens?"
The current location of the Kukawa hostages is unknown, and the kidnappers have not made any demands. Authorities have deployed fighter jets on a search and rescue operation.
Security expert Ebenezer Oyetakin says the attack is likely a statement by the jihadist group.
“All of these abductions is just to spite the government, to say yes we can still do something. But definitely from the fact that they were holding more than 19 local govenments under them before, and today they are not holding even a ward under their control, but running, doing hit and runs shows and demonstrates that our security performed better than the past but there are so much yet to be done," said Oyetakin.
A decade of jihadist violence in the northeast has killed some 30,000 people, displaced more than three million and plunged the region into a humanitarian crisis.
Last Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari met with security chiefs and governors in the northeast and assured security will be restored to the region.