Suicide bombers kill 27, wound 83 in northeast Nigeria

By Ahmed Kingimi

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – A woman suicide bomber blew herself up and killed 27 others at a market in northeast Nigeria on Tuesday, two local officials said, in an attack bearing the hallmark of Boko Haram militants.

Two more suicide bombers detonated their devices at the gates to a nearby refugee camp, wounding many people, an emergency services official said.

In all, 83 people were wounded in the three explosions near the city of Maiduguri, epicenter of the long-running conflict between government forces and Boko Haram.

Nigeria’s military last year wrested back large swathes of territory from the Islamist insurgents. But they have struck back with renewed zeal since June, killing at least 143 people before Tuesday’s bombings and weakening the army’s control.

The group has waged an eight-year war to create an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, and provoked international outrage by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls known as the Chibok Girls in April 2014.

Its better-known faction, led by Abubakar Shekau, has mainly based itself in the sprawling Sambisa forest, and been characterized by its use of women and children as suicide bombers targeting mosques and markets.

A rival faction – based in the Lake Chad region, led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and boasting ties to Islamic State – has in the meantime quietly become a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organised attacks.

Last month, an oil prospecting team was captured by al-Barnawi’s group. At least 37 people, including members of the team, died when rescuers from the military and vigilantes attempted to free them.

The Boko Haram insurgency has killed 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million to flee their homes in the last eight years.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi in Maiduguri; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Boko Haram militants kill at least 30 fishermen in northeast Nigeria: governor

Boko Haram militants kill at least 30 fishermen in northeast Nigeria: governor

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Boko Haram militants killed at least 30 fishermen in raids on communities around Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria, the governor of Borno state, residents and military sources said on Tuesday.

The raids are part of renewed attacks by the militant Islamist group which, prior to the latest attacks, have led to at least 113 people being killed by insurgents since June 1.

Last month members of an oil prospecting team were kidnapped in the restive Lake Chad Basin region, prompting a rescue bid that left at least 37 dead including members of the team.

It was carried out by a Boko Haram faction allied to Islamic State which has been active around Lake Chad.

Kashim Shettima, governor of Borno state which is at the epicenter of the insurgency, told journalists that Boko Haram militants had attacked and killed over 30 people in different villages in the latest attacks.

Residents and military sources said the militants ambushed fishermen in a series of raids between Saturday and Monday at villages near the northeast Nigerian border town of Baga.

Baga is at Nigeria’s border with Chad, Niger and Cameroon and in 2015 was the site of fierce fighting between the insurgents and Nigerian troops.

The Boko Haram insurgency, aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria, has killed 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million to flee their homes in the last eight years.

(Reporting by Lanre Ola, Ahmed Kingimi, Kolowale Adewale and Ardo Abdullahi in Bauchi; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Nigeria church shooting kills 11

Nigeria church shooting kills 11

ABUJA (Reuters) – Gunmen killed 11 people and wounded 18 others in a church in southeastern Nigeria on Sunday in an attack arising from a feud between members of the local community, officials said.

However, police believe that a man the gunmen were hunting for was not present in the church and so escaped the attack.

The attackers struck the church in Ozubulu early in the morning, said Garba Umar, head of police in Anambra state.

They were believed to have been trying to kill a local man, who was not identified by the authorities.

“The gunmen came thinking that their target was in the church but incidentally he was not,” Umar said, adding that the violence may be linked to drug-trafficking.

No arrests have been made, he said.

Nigeria’s southeast is predominantly Christian and the attack is a rare act of violence at a church.

Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano said the attack stemmed from a feud between members of the local community who were living outside Nigeria.

“We are not going to relent until we bring those that perpetrated this heinous crime to book,” he said.

Nigeria is wracked by insecurity, with Islamist insurgency Boko Haram having killed more than 20,000 people since 2009, sparking one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.

Ethnically-charged violence is common throughout the central states and militancy is a constant threat in the oil-rich southeast.

(Reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu; Additional reporting by Tife Owolabi; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Adrian Croft)

Boko Haram wing tied to IS marks resurgence by kidnapping oil workers

Boko Haram wing tied to IS marks resurgence by kidnapping oil workers

By Alexis Akwagyiram

LAGOS (Reuters) – A Boko Haram faction with ties to Islamic State and responsible for the kidnapping of a Nigerian oil prospecting team which led to at least 37 people being killed has become a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organized attacks.

Nigerian government forces have focused on crushing the best-known branch of the Islamist militant group whose leader Abubakar Shekau has led an eight-year insurgency to create an Islamic state in the northeast which has killed thousands.

But while Nigeria has claimed the capture of Shekau’s main base in the Sambisa forest and freed many of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his faction in April 2014 in Chibok town, a rival wing has developed the capacity to carry out attacks on a larger scale.

At least 37 people, including members of the team, rescuers from the military and vigilantes, died last week when security forces tried to free those being held by the Boko Haram faction led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi who is trying to thwart government efforts to explore for oil in the Lake Chad Basin.

That wing is “much better organized than the Shekau faction” which typically stages suicide bombings in mosques and markets, said Malte Liewerscheidt, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft consultancy group.

“The Shekau faction does not seem to have a clear ideology or any strategy,” said Liewerscheidt. That makes it easier for al-Barnawi’s faction to recruit whereas Shekau’s faction was not trusted by locals, he said.

And despite the assessment that it is less organized, Shekau’s faction has stepped up suicide bombings in the last few weeks, killing at least 113 people since June 1, according to a Reuters tally.

The combined attacks by the two wings marks a resurgence by the group, months after President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement in December 2016 that Boko Haram’s stronghold in the Sambisa forest had been captured.

Boko Haram, which has killed more than 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million to flee their homes since 2009, split last year.

The division led by Shekau, Boko Haram’s most recognizable figure known for videos taunting Nigerian authorities circulated on social media, operates in the northeastern Sambisa forest and usually deploys girls as suicide bombers.

IS NAMED AL-BARNAWI

But, since Islamic State named al-Barnawi as Boko Haram’s leader in August 2016 after the west African militants pledged allegiance the previous year, his Lake Chad-based faction has been moving fighters and ammunition across porous borders in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

The head of a private Nigerian security firm, who did not want to be named, said al-Barnawi’s IS affiliation meant his wing benefits from sub-Saharan trade routes to ship weapons from lawless Libya where Islamic State is active.

His group has been planning a larger scale attack for some time, said a Western diplomat, speaking anonymously.

Boko Haram launched two attacks in June – the most prolonged raid on the northeastern city of Maiduguri in 18 months and an attack on a police convoy – which were more ambitious than routine suicide attacks. Shekau’s faction is widely believed to have been behind the two attacks.

Buhari has repeatedly said the insurgents are on the verge of defeat since the army, helped by neighboring countries, wrested back most of the land in Nigeria’s northeast, an area the size of Belgium, that the militants took in early 2015.

But security experts say the territorial gain has given a false impression because much of the liberated areas beyond main roads patrolled by the army remain no-go areas where displaced people cannot return to farm.

“While insurgent-held territory has been recaptured, this was conflated with a military victory,” said Ryan Cummings, director of Africa-focused risk management company Signal Risk.

“All that has happened is that Boko Haram has reverted to the asymmetrical armed campaign it had waged for the seven out of the eight years of its armed campaign against the Nigerian state,” he said.

The military has been forced to concentrate forces around Maiduguri, capital of the insurgency’s birthplace, Borno state, where Shekau’s faction has stepped up suicide bombings, which now occur on a near-daily basis.

RANSOM MONEY

A security analyst said Shekau’s wing used ransom money paid by the government to free Chibok girls to buy weapons and recruit fighters — the attacks stepped up after a deal was brokered in May to free 82 of them.

The return of experienced commanders freed in exchange for the girls had also bolstered his group, said the analyst, who asked not to be named. “The fact that they were held for some time suggests they were serious players,” he said.

Acting-President Yemi Osinbajo, in power while Buhari takes medical leave in Britain for an unspecified ailment, responded to the oil team’s abduction and frequent attacks by ordering military chiefs to “scale up their efforts” in Borno, according to a statement.

The military said armed forces chiefs relocated to Maiduguri on August 1. “This move and action are expected to give impetus to the military effort,” it said, without elaborating. The theater army commander is already based in the city.

(Additional reporting by Paul Carsten in Abuja; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Peter Millership)

Suspected Boko Haram militants issue video of three kidnapped oil survey team members

A car drives towards a Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) sector 5 sign in Maiduguri, Nigeria August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

BAUCHI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Suspected Boko Haram members released a video on Saturday that shows three kidnapped members of an oil exploration team in northeastern Nigeria, one of whom asks the government to reduce the use of force against the jihadists.

The team, which included university staff and employees from Nigeria’s state oil firm, was kidnapped by suspected members of the Islamist militant group while searching for oil in the conflict-ridden northeast on Tuesday.

A rescue attempt on Wednesday ended in the deaths of at least 37 members of the original prospecting team and the rescuers, including Nigerian military and armed vigilantes, according to officials and military sources.

It prompted a change of tactic by the government amid a spate of attacks by the group whose bid to create an Islamic state in the northeast led to the deaths of at least 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million to flee their homes since 2009.

In the video, seen by Reuters, the men are seen seemingly unharmed and sitting crosslegged on a red floor in front of a patterned wall. The video was obtained by Sahara Reporters, a U.S.-based journalism website.

The University of Maiduguri confirmed the three men in the video were their staff members. It also released a photo of them late on Friday.

“I want to advise that the use of excessive force is not the solution. “We want to call on the federal government to meet this demand and, as promised, they will release us immediately,” said one of the men, who identified himself as a lecturer at the university.

The jihadist group split last year, with one faction led by Abubakar Shekau operating from the Sambisa Forest — a vast woodland area in the northeast — and the other, allied to Islamic State and led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, based in the Lake Chad region where the search for oil took place.

“I want to call the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, to come to our rescue to meet the demand of soldiers of calipha under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Barnawi,” said the same man in the four-and-a-half minute video.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Thursday dispatched military chiefs to the northeast to help regain control of the situation after insurgents have launched attacks with renewed zeal in the past few months.

The state oil company, which contracted university staff, has for more than a year surveyed what it says may be vast oil reserves in the Lake Chad Basin.

It wants to reduce its reliance on the southern Niger Delta energy hub, which last year was hit by militant attacks on oil facilities.

(Reporting by Ardo Abdullahi and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Ahmed Kingimi; Writing by Paul Carsten and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

A dozen killed, over 40 wounded in Cameroon suicide bomb attack

DOUALA (Reuters) – Two suicide bombers killed at least 12 people and wounded over 40 others in a small town in northern Cameroon near the Nigerian border late on Wednesday, a senior army source and a local official told Reuters.

“There were 14 deaths, including the two suicide bombers, and 42 wounded,” said an army colonel responsible for evacuating the wounded who asked to remain anonymous. “The attack was perpetrated by one suicide bomber, and the other was shot dead.”

The attack was carried out by two women who walked into a busy area in the center of Waza, five miles (8 km) from the Nigerian border, said Midjiyawa Bakari, the governor for the Far North region where the attack took place. He said that 13 had been killed and 43 wounded. A baby was among the dead, he said.

Many were seriously wounded and were flown to nearby hospitals, he said.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the region has been a frequent target of Boko Haram militants in their eight-year bid to carve out an Islamic caliphate beyond Nigeria.

Last month, nine were killed in the town of Kolofata when two children carrying explosives blew themselves up near a camp housing people displaced by Boko Haram violence.

In eight years, Boko Haram attacks have killed more than 20,000 people in the Lake Chad region, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger and, according to the latest U.N. refugee agency figures, displaced 2.7 million.

(Reporting By Josiane Kouagheu, writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Suicide bombers in northeast Nigeria’s Maiduguri kill 17: police

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Suicide bombers killed 17 people and injured 21 in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the police commissioner of Borno state said on Wednesday.

It is the latest in a spate of suicide bomb attacks on the city in the last few weeks. Borno, of which Maiduguri is the capital, is the Nigerian state worst affected by the eight-year-old insurgency by Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Witnesses said four suicide bombers carried out attacks in the Molai district, which is around 5 kilometers from the city center, on Tuesday night at around 10:00 p.m. (2100 GMT). Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Damian Chukwu, the Borno state police commissioner said the suicide bombers were among the 17 killed.

Boko Haram, which has killed more than 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million people to flee their homes in its bid to create an Islamic state.

The group has been pushed out of most of a swathe of land around the size of Belgium that it controlled in early 2015 by the Nigeria’s army and troops from neighboring countries in the northeast Nigeria.

But insurgents continue to carry out suicide bombings and raids in northeast Nigeria, as well as in Cameroon and Niger.

(Reporting by Ahmed Kingimi and Lanre Ola; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Returning Nigerian refugees could create new crisis as rainy season starts: UNHCR

GENEVA (Reuters) – Nigerian refugees who fled Islamist militants are returning from Cameroon into a country that is still not equipped to support them, and they risk creating a new humanitarian crisis, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said on Wednesday.

The UNHCR issued a similar warning last month when about 12,000 refugees returned to the border town of Banki in Borno state, which was already housing 45,000 displaced Nigerians.

Another 889 refugees, mostly children, arrived in Banki on June 17 from Minawao camp in Cameroon, Grandi said.

“The new arrivals – and we hear reports of more refugees seeking to return – put a strain on the few existing services, he said in a statement. “A new emergency, just as the rainy season is starting, has to be avoided at all costs.”

“It is my firm view that returns are not sustainable at this time.”

Banki, once a thriving town, was razed to the ground by the time the Nigerian army retook it from Boko Haram insurgents in September 2015.

Grandi said the severely overcrowded town could not provide adequate shelter or aid and its water supply and sanitation were “wholly inadequate”, creating the risk of disease.

Although Boko Haram attacks have been fewer in recent months, more people are on the move and there are 1.9 million Nigerians displaced across the northeast, the World Food Program (WFP) said in a report last week.

“Insecurity persists in parts of Northeast Nigeria, disrupting food supplies, seriously hindering access to basic services, and limiting agricultural activities, worsening an already dire food security situation,” it said.

More than 5 million people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in northeastern Nigeria have no secure food supply, WFP said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Nigeria says half of government food aid never reached victims of Boko Haram

LAGOS (Reuters) – At least half of Nigerian government food aid sent northeast for hungry people driven from their homes by Boko Haram has been “diverted” and never reached them, a government official said.

Some 1.5 million people are on the brink of famine in the northeast, where the jihadist group has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2.7 million to flee during its eight-year uprising to create an Islamic caliphate.

A program was launched on June 8 by Yemi Osinbajo, acting president while President Muhammadu Buhari is in Britain on medical leave, to distribute grain to 1.8 million people still displaced by the insurgency, many of whom live in camps.

“Over 1,000 trucks of assorted grains are now on course, delivering the grains intact to beneficiaries since the commencement of the present program as against the reported diversion of over 50 trucks in every 100 trucks sent to the northeast,” said Osinbajo’s spokesman Laolu Akande in an emailed statement late on Saturday.

“The issue of diversion of relief materials, including food and related matters, which has dogged food delivery to the IDPs [internally displaced people] would be significantly curbed under the new distribution matrix.”

Akande said 1,376 military personnel and 656 armed police would guard the food as it was moved from warehouses and distributed to displaced people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – the three states worst hit by the insurgency.

Boko Haram controlled an area of the northeast around the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has since been pushed out of most of the territory by Nigeria’s army and troops from neighboring countries.

But the Islamists continue to carry out attacks in the northeast and neighboring Cameroon and Niger.

Boko Haram killed 14 people in bombings and shootings in the northeastern city of Maiduguri on June 7, in a large-scale attack quelled by the army after several hours.

A U.N. official said this month the World Food Programme had scaled back its emergency plans in the northeast because of lack of funds, now aiming to supply food to 1.4 million people instead of the 1.8 million previously intended.

The U.N. says it needs $1.05 billion this year to deal with the crisis in northeast Nigeria – which, along with Somalia and South Sudan, is one of three humanitarian emergencies unfolding in Africa – but has only received about a quarter of that sum.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Andrew Roche)

On Boko Haram front line, Nigerian vigilantes amass victories and power

Members of the local militia, otherwise known as CJTF, sit in the back of a truck during a patrol in the city of Maiduguri, northern Nigeria June 9, 2017. Picture taken June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye.

By Ed Cropley

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – His broken arm is in a bamboo splint, his torso pock-marked with shrapnel and his jaw wired together by a Nigerian army surgeon.

But 38-year-old vigilante Dala Aisami Angwalla is undaunted by two nearly fatal brushes in the last year with Boko Haram, one involving a landmine, the other an ambush, and is determined to rid northeast Nigeria of the jihadists.

It is a sentiment shared by thousands of other volunteer vigilantes who have been instrumental in checking Boko Haram’s progress but whose presence now casts a shadow over longer-term efforts to bring stability to the troubled Lake Chad region.

“Why do I do it? Because it’s my country,” the father-of-five told Reuters in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and epicenter of Boko Haram’s bloody, eight-year campaign to build an Islamic caliphate in the southern reaches of the Sahel.

“My children are OK. When I go out, they say ‘Go well, father. May God keep you safe,'” he said, fingering a charm around his neck that he believes keeps him from harm’s way.

Angwalla belongs to the 30,000-strong “Civilian Joint Task Force” (CJTF) now fighting on the front line of Nigeria’s struggle against Boko Haram after helping the military push the Islamists from towns across Borno in the last three years.

Despite a string of victories, the CJTF has drawn criticism.

Rights groups accuse its members of abuses ranging from extortion to rape and say their entry into the fray three years ago may be the reason for a sharp rise in Boko Haram violence against civilians.

CJTF leaders, who say 670 of its “boys” have been killed in action, say bar a “few bad people” its members are registered, impartial and professional.

FEAR OF ARMED GROUPS

The CJTF, most of whom are unemployed men, has asked the government to provide payment for its operations, a demand seen by political observers as ominous given the blurred lines in Nigeria between local politics and orchestrated violence.

With national elections in 2019 and the long-term illness of President Muhammadu Buhari pointing to a power vacuum, fears about organized armed groups are on the rise.

“In Nigeria in particular, vigilantism did much to turn an anti-state insurgency into a bloodier civil war, pitting Boko Haram against communities and leading to drastic increases in violence,” the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said.

“In the longer term, vigilantes may become political foot soldiers, turn to organized crime or feed communal violence,” it said in a February report.

Few in Nigeria would question the significance of the CJTF’s role against Boko Haram, whose fighters have killed at least 20,000 people and displaced 2.7 million. Aid experts say 1.4 million are on the brink of famine after years without harvests.

Set up as a Sunni fundamentalist group influenced by the Wahhabi movement, Boko Haram has led a violent uprising since 2009. The group, whose name means ‘Western education is forbidden’, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

CUTLASSES AND ARROWS

Building on Nigeria’s long-standing tradition of communal self-defense, the vigilante group was founded in Maiduguri in 2013 when groups of young men decided they had had enough of the Islamist militants living in their midst.

Their cutlasses, bows and arrows, and rudimentary shotguns were little match for Boko Haram’s modern weaponry, mostly captured in raids on Nigerian army and police positions, but their local knowledge was decisive.

Hundreds of suspected militants were detained by soldiers and police acting on CJTF tip-offs in raids that turned the tide against Boko Haram in Maiduguri, a city of a million established as a military outpost by British colonial authorities in 1907.

“Within one week, we secured the whole center of Maiduguri,” said Abba Aji Kalli, a 51-year-old accountant who is also CJTF’s state-wide coordinator. “The army were strangers but we live with Boko Haram in the same community, in the same neighborhood. We know who are the members of Boko Haram.”

Three years on, the CJTF forms the backbone of Borno’s anti-Boko Haram defenses, attracting the praise of Buhari, who in December declared the Islamist group “technically” defeated.

“They have been of tremendous help to the military because they are from there. They have local intelligence,” Buhari said.

CHEEK-BY-JOWL WITH BOKO HARAM

Now, most day-to-day security in Maiduguri and the refugee camps that surround it falls to black-clad CJTF members patrolling entrances to markets or sitting behind sandbag barricades with machetes, muskets and bows and arrows.

“Without the CJTF, there would be no security at all,” said Tijani Lumwani, head of the 40,000-strong Muna Garage refugee camp, hit by several suicide bombers in March. “They live in the community. We trust them. Without them, we would have no peace.”

Most CJFT vigilantes, including Angwalla, go unrewarded for their efforts, although 1,850 who have received paramilitary training are given a 15,000 naira per month ($48) stipend by the Borno government.

Around 450 have been incorporated into the main security forces and 30 into the intelligence services, group coordinator Kalli said, although he and his colleagues believe that is not enough and want more money and jobs to follow.

Buhari spokesman Femi Adesina said there would be “some sort of demobilization” for CJTF members but denied any obligation to provide jobs. “The CJTF was a voluntary thing. There was no agreement that ‘You do this, and the government will do that.'”

Borno state attorney general Kaka Shehu Lawal said the local government was investing heavily in agriculture and other industrial projects to create jobs for unemployed CJTF members who otherwise had the potential to become trouble-makers.

“We need them not to be idle because an idle man is the devil’s workshop,” Lawal said.

WHAT PRICE PEACE?

However, allegations of CJTF abuses have raised fears among diplomats and rights workers that the counter-insurgency effort has spawned a provincial militia the authorities may not be able to control.

Amnesty International researcher Isa Sanusi said he had credible reports of “widespread” abuses by CJTF guards in Borno, including extorting money from refugees seeking access to camps or sexual favors in exchange for food.

Kalli said a handful of culprits had been arrested.

Rights groups say that if the vigilantes fail to receive what they feel is due to them, they are likely to become another long-term source of instability. “They will come out of this crisis with some kind of entitlement that will make them think they are above the law,” Amnesty’s Sanusi said.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley, editing by Peter Millership)