MAIDUGURI, Nigeria: Suspected Boko Haram militants have abducted more than 60 women and girls, some as young as 3, in the latest kidnappings in northeast Nigeria and over two months since more than 200 schoolgirls were seized.
Analysts said the kidnapping, which happened during a raid on Kummabza village in the Damboa district of Borno state, could be an attempt by the Islamist group to refocus attention on its demands for the release of militant fighters.
Boko Haram has indicated that it would be willing to release the 219 schoolgirls that it has held hostage since April 14 in exchange for the freedom of its brothers in arms currently held in Nigerian jails.
Nigeria initially refused to sanction any deal but efforts have since been made to open talks with the group, with a possible prisoner swap part of discussions.
The military in Abuja said in a tweet late Monday it could not confirm the latest abductions and spokesmen were not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP Tuesday.
But a senior officer in the Damboa local government, who asked for his name to be withheld as he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said: “Over 60 women were hijacked and forcefully taken away by the terrorists.
“The village was also destroyed,” he said, adding that locals had fled their homes to other parts of Borno and across the state border into Adamawa.
“Among those abducted are children between the ages of 3 and 12,” he added.
Aji Khalil, a local vigilante leader, said: “Over 60 women were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists. They were forcefully taken away by Boko Haram terrorists.
“Four villagers who tried to escape were shot dead on the spot.”
A bomb blast blamed on Boko Haram killed at least eight at a public health college in the northern city of Kano Monday.
The newly appointed religious leader the Emir of Kano, former central bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said the attack had “traumatized every one of us” after visiting the wounded in hospital.
“We pray to Allah to bring an end to this security situation and may Allah not allow a repeat of this,” he said in his first comments on Boko Haram violence since his appointment.
Boko Haram, which has been waging a deadly insurgency since 2009, used the kidnapping of women and young girls as a tactic even before the mass abduction of the schoolgirls in the remote Borno town of Chibok.
The Chibok abduction triggered a groundswell of outrage within Nigeria that spread overseas.
Borno senator Ali Ndume confirmed the latest abductions and said Boko Haram “took advantage” as people returned to the area to check on their farms during flooding when there was no military presence in the area.