In what appears to be a change of tactics, groups operating in the North have taken to kidnapping foreigners, ISAIAH BENJAMIN, Kaduna, MUAZU ELAZEH, Katsina and NAJIB SANI, Bauchi report on what this development portends for the country’s war against terror
Before now, groups operating in some states in the North took no prisoners, choosing, instead, to kill and maim as many as possible by way of either suicide bombing or gun attacks.
In retrospect now, the shift to kidnapping foreigners in furtherance of their campaign of terror appeared to have taken off with the snatching of an Italian and an Englishman working for a construction firm in Kebbi state, nearly two years ago.
The victims, Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara, were kidnapped in May 2011 and killed on March 8, 2012 by their captors after gunfire erupted during an failed rescue attempt.
After this incident, In May 2012, a Lebanese working on a water project in Kakeyi village, Zaria local government, Kaduna state was also kidnapped and killed.
Similarly, a Frenchman, Mr. Francis Colump was kidnapped at Rimi village, Katsina state as the S.A. Vergnet site engineer put finishing touches to a 10-megawatt windmill power project for the state government.
The Jam�'atu Ans�ril Muslimīna fī Bil�dis Sūd�n, otherwise known as Ansaru, reportedly claimed responsibility for Colump’s kidnap, which incident took place on December 19, 2012. Since then, nothing has been heard of the hostage.
Ansaru launched its biggest kidnap operation till date on February 12 this year when its members stormed the residence of some foreign workers working for Setraco Nigeria Limited, a Lebanese construction company and abducted seven expatriates working for the firm in Jama’are village, Bauchi state.
The group recently announced that the hostages from Britain, Greece, Italy, Lebanon and the Philippines have been killed, ostensibly because they got wind of an unconfirmed plan to rescue them.
Why The Switch To Kidnapping?
Stakeholders and security experts who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend proffered several reasons why groups in the North have turned to kidnapping. Northern Leader of Civil Society coalition, Comrade Shehu Sani, said the groups in the region may have turned to kidnappings to “attract further international attention.”
The on-going military action against Islamists rebels in Mali by some European countries led by France, security expert said, might be responsible for the change of tactics by the insurgents in Northern Nigeria.Following Colump’s kidnap, the Ansaru group reportedly said they did it in retaliation for “France’s major role in the (planned) attack on the Islamic state in northern Mali.”
But a security expert who does not want his name in print surmised: “The resort to kidnapping foreign workers by insurgents in the North is the clearest indicator for me that there now exists a synergy between Nigerian insurgents and Al-Qaeda terrorists who are finding it increasingly difficult to operate in the Middle East and North African countries and are now seeking a new base.
“Taking foreigners hostage is the signature tactics of Al-Qaeda. The Nigerian terrorists must have been advised by their Al-Qaeda partners in terror to adopt the tactics, which, in their estimation, would buoy the clout of the Nigerian insurgents.”
“The new phase of terrorism in the North,” says another security professional who also pleaded anonymity, “might actually have been forced by resource exigency. Recall that suicide bombing was Boko Haram’s tactics of choice and they indeed used it efficiently. Could it be that they have turned to kidnapping foreigners because they had run out of suicide bombers? This is plausible because no resource is inexhaustible.”
Whatever the reason for the this new phase of terrorism in the North, it is clear to all now that the region is increasing becoming dangerous for foreigners. This much is clear to National Publicity Secretary, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Anthony Sani, who lamented that the development portended further economic and development woes for the region and the country at large.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend, Sani said: “In effect, kidnapping foreigners as we had seen when it was rampant in other part of the country, specifically the Niger Delta, would scare away expatriates who would otherwise work for the economic and infrastructural development of the North and even the country as a whole.”
The ACF scribe urged the insurgents “to give up the armed struggle and embrace peaceful means of addressing their grievances, lest the whole world decides not to do business with Nigeria as a result of emerging violent culture that hitherto was alien to the North.”