By Francis Okoye, Maiduguri
The Abubakar Shekau-led faction of the Boko Haram terrorist group, Jama’atu Ahlussunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, has released a video footage of how it shot down a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jet Aircraft.
The jet had on Wednesday evening lost contact with radar in Borno State and was declared missing.
The aircraft was on a mission to provide support for ground troops on fighting Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East region.
Boko Haram in the video released on Friday, claimed that it shot down the NAF jet.
In the video, the group also showed fighters carrying RPG and artillery equipment as well as a corpse of one of the two pilots and the debris of the aircraft.
Also, a ball of explosion covered the Fighter Jet.
The seven minutes, 30 seconds-long video shows the Alpha Jet flying low over a battlefield arena with multiple Boko Haram fighters engaging it in fierce and uncoordinated firefights.
The insurgents could be seen firing what was like a heavy machine gun (anti-aircraft gun) towards the combat aircraft. Then the spectre of a fireball explosion could be seen as the Alpha Jet headed rapidly towards the ground.
Fighters subsequently moved to the area of the crash and began removing components of the aircraft and the pilots’ personal belongings.
The video also shows a masked fighter armed with a belt-fed machine gun standing on the aircraft debris, and speaking in both Arabic and English languages.
The multiple Boko Haram fighters had gun trucks, motorcycles, AK pattern rifles, belt-fed machines and what appeared to be at least one OTO Melara M56 105mm howitzer improvised into a mobile artillery system and Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SBVIEDs)-type vehicle.
The terrorists were seen in the video glorifying Allah for giving them victory and a masked man among them stood on the debris of the fighter Jet, saying in a fluent English: “Nigeria Air Force Jet No 475 was sent to Sambisa to fight us, but Allah has given us victory. Now our message to you is to repent and this is the only way for you.”
Our correspondent reports that part of the Jet displaying the aircraft number ‘475’ has not burnt when the terrorists displayed the video.
This incident raises safety concerns on both military and humanitarian aircraft flying over the conflict zone. It is unclear if the crash was caused by the anti-aircraft gun or a weapon system the group did not show in the video.
The Alpha Jet is an advanced trainer and attack aircraft that has served in the NAF inventory for almost 30 years, with the Air Force receiving new deliveries of the attack (A) variants in 2015 and 2018 from the United States of America. The crashed NAF 475 Alpha Jet is from that batch.
The Alpha Jets are usually equipped with Soviet rocket pods and unguided bombs used for targeting ground targets.
LEADERSHIP reports that NAF had lost radar contact with an Alpha Jet conducting a routine mission in support of ground troops on Wednesday evening in the Sambisa forest area of Borno State, Northeast Nigeria.
It can also be recalled that earlier on Friday morning, the Air Force Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, said NAF was not ruling out anything even as it suspected that the Jet might have crashed.
“At this point, the NAF is not ruling out anything regarding the incident. It however remains hopeful that the crew would soon be found and rescued,” Gabkwet had said.
He also revealed the identities of the pilots as Flight Lieutenant John Abolarinwa and Flight Lieutenant Ebiakpo Chapele.
However, when LEADERSHIP defence correspondent in Abuja sought the reaction of NAF authorities on the latest development, he was asked to hold on for a while as the public relations and information department of NAF was apparently preparing a response.