DAKAR, SENEGAL - Suspected Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 100 people Sunday from the village of Gumsuri, Nigeria, after raiding the town and killing 35 other residents, according to survivors of the attack. They said those taken are primarily women and children. Kidnappings would not be a new strategy for Boko Haram, although no one has claimed responsibility.
2014 saw a dramatic uptick in Boko Haram kidnappings as the sect seized territory in the northeast. The sect also grabbed women and girls, forcing them into marriage or labor in its camps, and conscripted men into its ranks.
Reports of how many people were taken from the Borno state village of Gumsuri range from "more than a 100" to as many as 185. If confirmed, it could be one of Boko Haram's largest kidnappings to date.
Yola-based Nigerian professor Kyari Mohammed, who studies the insurgency, said, “While the military is making advances and apparently degrading the capacity of Boko Haram in the areas that they have re-captured, they still are unable to provide security in the outlying areas.”
Soldiers were not in Gumsuri Sunday when Boko Haram set fire to buildings and hauled away what one survivor described to VOA as “almost half the village.”
The political opposition says Gumsuri shows the government’s ineptitude.
Presidential spokesman Doyin Okupe said that’s not the case.
“We are in a war situation and the frontier of this war is so wide and enormous. It’s impossible for the military to be present everywhere,” he said.
Gumsuri is close to the Damboa axis, an area under Boko Haram control.
Mohammed said local hunters and civilian vigilantes in Gumsuri had "repelled" Boko Haram in previous clashes and killed some militants. Boko Haram is known to come back for revenge.
“It’s a policy of pacification. It’s like, 'this is what happens to communities that resist us,'” he said.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau reiterated such threats of retribution and kidnapping in his most recent video, released this week.
The village is just 20 kilometers north of Chibok where Boko Haram grabbed 276 schoolgirls in April. Fifty-seven escaped. The rest are still missing.
Human Rights Watch said in October that it had documented at least 500 women and girls abducted by Boko Haram since mid-2013.
HRW researcher Mausi Segun said Nigerian authorities have done little to address the mounting threat, even after Chibok, which she said just emboldened militants.
“They’ve realized that they can do it and no one is stopping them and they continue to do it,” said Segun.
Boko Haram has said it kidnaps women and girls as retaliation for militants’ wives and children they say are detained by the government. The sect also wants to push Western education out of the north and keep girls out of school.
Militants also target Christian women whom they force to convert.
Displaced survivors of attacks in other towns say militants appear to pick and choose captives, for example, attractive teenage girls or able-bodied young men.
Mass abductions like the one reported in Gumsuri are different, said CEO of the Berlin-based security firm MOSECON, Yan St. Pierre, who studies Boko Haram. The captives can be seen as a form of “bounty” or “reward” for fighters.
“They see potential future soldiers in the boys. They see future wives in the girls and they see current wives in the older women. Having such a mass kidnapping, this is where they sort of reflock their nests," St. Pierre said.
He said they also can sell or trade the captives. After the Chibok kidnapping, Shekau released a video calling for a prisoner swap with the Nigerian government. The government said no.