Fear of military reprisal sends people fleeing Okene
By Matthew Onah in Lokoja with agency reports
An Islamist group called Ansarul has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on some Mali-bound military troops last Saturday along Lokoja-Okene road in Kogi State.
The group owned up to the crime yesterday in a local Desert Herald, which often publishes their claims.
Suspected Islamist gunmen opened fire on a convoy of troops leaving northern Nigeria en route to deployment with West African forces in Mali, killing two officers and wounding eight others, in the state.
The statement in the online media site said the attack was part of a mission to stop Nigerian troops joining Western powers in their “aim to demolish the Islamic empire of Mali.”
“We are warning the African countries to ... stop helping Western countries in fighting against Islam and Muslims or face the utmost difficulties,” said the statement by the group, whose full name Jama’atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan means “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.”
The attack came after a report that a veteran jihadist who claimed responsibility for a mass hostage-taking in Algeria, in which at least 23 hostages and 32 militants were killed, called on France to stop air strikes in Mali.
Ansarul is one of several radical Islamist groups seen as the leading security threat to Africa’s top energy producer.
According to Reuters, the group had been dubbed a terrorist organisation by Britain, it has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a French national last month, citing France’s ban on full-face veils and its support for military action in Mali as reasons for the abduction.
Believed to be a breakaway from Boko Haram, it has risen to greater prominence over the past few months. Unlike Boko Haram, it seems to have a much more thorough focus on global jihad, rather than a domestic political agenda.
It also said it was behind a dawn raid on a major police station in the Nigerian capital in November, in which it said hundreds of prisoners were released.
Security sources suspect it was behind the kidnap and killing of a Briton and an Italian in North-west Nigeria, also a German in the North’s main city of Kano last year.
Western governments are increasingly concerned about Islamists in Nigeria linking up with groups outside the region, including al Qaeda’s north African wing, whom allied French and West African forces are on a mission to dislodge from Mali.
Veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility in the name of al Qaeda for last week’s hostage taking at a gas plant near the Algerian town of Amenas, Mauritanian news website, Sahara Media, said yesterday, citing a video.
Suspected Islamist gunmen opened fire on the convoy of one of Nigeria’s most senior Islamic monarchs in the city of Kano on Saturday, killing four people.
Meanwhile, the fear of reprisal action by the military has sent most people fleeing from their homes in Abobo village, the scene of last Saturday’s attack in which two soldiers were killed and eight soldiers injured.
An on-the-spot check by THISDAY at the Abobo village showed very sparse movement of people. A villager, who preferred anonymity, said most people deserted the village yesterday for fear that the military might wreak havoc in vengeance of the attack.
He told THISDAY, that the people in the village now are not up to 20, stressing that he only came for some food stuff and would be heading for the hills as soon as possible.
Another group of youths on sighting the vehicle conveying the journalists took to their heels .
The state Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Musa Katsina, said the convoy came under a coordinated attack by some hoodlums, using weapons and remotely controlled improvised explosive devices.
He stated that the attack took place at about 6.30 a.m on Saturday morning in-between two hills.
Also the Liaison Officer 1 of Okene Local Government Area of the state, Hon. Ahmed Ogembe, yesterday said the killing of two soldiers by some unknown gunmen did not take place in Okene as reported by some national dailies.