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Kidnapping of 5 Sisters Raises Outcry in Nigeria

FILE - Police crime scene tape is seen in Owo, Ondo, Nigeria, June 6, 2022.
FILE - Police crime scene tape is seen in Owo, Ondo, Nigeria, June 6, 2022.

The abduction of five young Nigerian sisters near Abuja has sparked a national outcry and raised fears about insecurity in the country's capital.

The sisters were seized at the start of the year by armed men who burst into their home 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the Abuja city center, a family member told AFP.

She said the attackers killed one of the sisters, 21-year-old Nabeeha Al-Kadriyar, when a ransom deadline passed. Negotiations were ongoing for the release of the others.

Kidnapping for ransom has been a major problem in Nigeria, with criminal gangs targeting highways and apartments and even snatching pupils from schools.

After public outrage over the sisters' case this week, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu condemned what he called the "recent spate of kidnappings and bandit attacks."

Politicians and the media have questioned the government's strategy after gangs targeted parts of the heavily guarded Federal Capital Territory.

"Lie low, buy time"

The Nigerian risk consultancy SBM Intelligence told AFP it had documented 283 people abducted in the Federal Capital Territory over the past year.

Some experts believe the country's economic crisis is driving a rise in kidnappings as desperate Nigerians turn to crime for income.

SBM analyst Confidence Isaiah-MacHarry said insecurity around the capital has been growing for years.

"It's been getting worse for some time," he said, citing a 2022 attack on a prison on the outskirts of Abuja as a landmark moment.

Gunmen bombed their way into Kuje jail and freed hundreds of inmates in a raid claimed by Islamic State-allied jihadis.

The minister for the Federal Capital Territory has urged residents not to panic and promised to find a solution.

Isaiah-MacHarry said the government needed a consistent approach and warned that periodic crackdowns on criminals in Abuja's satellite towns were not working.

"All the bandits have to do is lie low and buy themselves time," he said.

Bandit attack

Nigerian law bans paying ransom to kidnappers, but many families have little faith in the authorities and feel they have no choice.

On the night the sisters were abducted, they were at home in Bwari inside the Federal Capital Territory, according to a cousin.

Asiya Adamu, 23, described how the attackers, known as bandits in Nigeria, struck around 9 p.m. on January 2.

They demanded cash, but the sisters' father, Mansoor Al-Kadriyar, had nothing to give and offered his belongings instead.

The attackers rounded up his daughters along with a cousin and tied their hands. They also took Mansoor Al-Kadriyar captive and beat the seven family members before leading them away, Adamu said.

They shot to death Mansoor Al-Kadriyar's brother when he tried to help, and several police officers were killed in a gunbattle, she said.

Mansoor Al-Kadriyar was released on condition he raise a large ransom within days, but the struggling family could not meet the deadline and the bandits killed Nabeeha, returned her body and increased the fee, Adamu said.

The family is still trying to negotiate, even after raising the new total thanks to an online crowdfunding campaign and the intervention of a former minister.

Adamu said the youngest of the sisters is just 14.

Her account has been confirmed by politicians. Police acknowledged the "abduction of six young girls" and said a rescue was underway but told AFP they could not provide details for security reasons.

Chronic challenges

Tinubu came to office last year vowing to tackle Nigeria's insecurity, including jihadis in the northeast, criminal militias in the northwest and a flareup of intercommunal violence in central states.

But critics say the kidnapping crisis is out of control.

Opposition politician Peter Obi said, "The fact that these kidnappings, killings and other reported cases of armed robbery and violent attacks are now taking place in Abuja, the nation's capital, is a clear pointer to how insecure the rest of the country now is.

"The trauma being experienced by this family and the blood of this innocent child should prick our conscience as leaders," he said.

The president said he plans to address the root causes of the violence through education but did not outline a precise strategy.

Abductions became a major problem in Nigeria in the 2000s and are now a lucrative industry.

The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria by Boko Haram jihadis made global headlines in 2014, but daily abductions rarely gain attention.

"Every day now you hear about a new kidnapping, even whole families," Adamu said.

She described Nabeeha as "smart, sweet and kind," saying she had just finished university and was looking forward to her graduation.

"Nobody deserves this," Adamu said. "It shouldn't be happening to anyone."