Boko Haram recruited three local gangs in northwest Nigeria to kidnap hundreds of schoolboys on its behalf, security and local sources said on Wednesday.
The militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Friday last week that targeted a secondary school in the town of Kankara, in Katsina state.
However, sources said that the operation was carried out on Boko Haram’s orders by a notorious local gangster called Awwalun Daudawa.
The 43-year-old worked in collaboration with Idi Minorti and Dankarami, two other crime chiefs with strong local followings, they said.
Criminal gangs, known locally as “bandits,” have terrorized communities in northwest Nigeria for years and experts have said that militants would attempt to forge an alliance with them.
Daudawa “was an armed robber and a cattle rustler before he turned to gunrunning, bringing in weapons from Libya, where he had received training, and selling them to bandits,” a security source said.
“Over time, he forged an alliance with Boko Haram and became their gunrunner, taking weapons the group seizes from the Nigerian security forces in raids and ambushes, and selling them to bandits for a cut,” the source said.
“Awwalun Daudawa was spotted in the forest in the Kankara area, where he recently relocated and there were reports that he was planning something, but it was not clear what it was,” the source added.
Another source with intimate knowledge of “bandit” activities in Katsina and Zamfara states said: “From available information, Awwalun Daudawa was ordered by Abubakar Shekau to kidnap the schoolboys, and he enlisted the help of Idi Minorti and Dankarami.”
“After the children were taken, they went across the border into Zamfara state and split them among different gangs ‘for safekeeping,’” the source said. “Some of the gangs have been in touch with the authorities for the release of the boys.”
The attack occurred hundreds of kilometers from Boko Haram’s stronghold in northeast Nigeria, where it launched a brutal insurgency a decade ago.
The militants made a claim of responsibility in a four-minute audio, sent to Agence France-Presse through the same channel as previous messages from the group.
“I am Abubakar Shekau and our brothers are behind the kidnapping in Katsina,” said the voice in the recording, resembling that of the elusive Boko Haram leader.
Shekau was behind the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok that sparked global outrage.
However, another source said that there is an ongoing peace pact between bandits and the Zamfara state government, which the bandits do not want to breach.
“They have been under intense pressure to release the boys,” the source added.
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