Efforts by security agencies to rescue hundreds of schoolgirls in Boko Haram captivity are being hampered by fears that another militant group, Ansaru, may be involved.
Ansaru (pictured), also called Jama’atu ansaril muslimina fi biladis Sudan (Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa), are known to harm their hostages at the slightest indication that they are about to be rescued.
The security forces fear a “massive tragedy” if the insurgents decide to adopt the “Ansaru style” in resisting rescue operations.
Nevertheless, they are making “considerable progress” in the search for the girls ─ with the support of UK, US and Israel, according to military sources.
On Monday, chief of defence staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, said the military had located the girls but could not act with force.
He was speaking to members of the Citizen Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA), an NGO, who were on a solidarity campaign to the defence headquarters in Abuja.
He said: “We want our girls back, I can tell you that our military can and will do it, but where they are held, can we go there with force?
“Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing; we can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back.
“So we are working, the President has empowered us to do the work, anybody castigating the military, definitely there is something wrong with him.
“The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you.
“We cannot come and tell you the military secret, just leave us alone, we are working to get the girls back.”
Badeh revealed that the fight against insurgency was quite different from full scale war, adding that “if we are fighting an external war, they would have been begging us to withdraw”.
TheCable understands that the rescue efforts remain tricky despite the encouraging news from Badeh.
The realisation that Ansaru and Boko Haram are now co-operating with each other has tempered optimism.
In February 2013, Ansaru abducted seven foreign workers ─ a Briton, a Greek, an Italian and four Lebanese ─ from the premises of a Lebanese construction company, Setraco, in Bauchi State.
They killed the hostages three weeks later on learning that the British government had sent an aircraft or a drone to raid their hideout.
Ansaru militants believed the Briton among the captives had a chip on his body that was going to lead the drone to their hideout.
It turned out that that there was no such rescue plan and the media report they acted upon was inaccurate.
In fact, the British warplanes spotted in Abuja had been there to carry soldiers taking part in a French-led operation against terrorists in Mali.
A Nigerian newspaper instead reported that the warplanes were meant for hostage rescue.
As many as 276 girls are thought to be in Boko Haram captivity, having been abducted on April 14/15 from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in a saga that has generated global interest.
Ansaru militants were believed to have parted ways with Boko Haram sometime in 2012 as a result of Ansaru’s opposition to the high Nigerian civilian casualties recorded in terror attacks.
They instead decided to focus on kidnapping foreigners for ransom.
“Initially, there were strong indications that Ansaru and Boko Haram no longer work together, but fresh facts show that they have reconciled and are now co-operating,” a senior security source told TheCable.
The insurgents were never known to take hostages until Ansaru broke away from the Boko Haram group some years ago.
“The kidnap of schoolgirls and the subsequent demand by Boko Haram for negotiation is a fairly credible evidence that both groups are back together,” the official said.
Ansaru have closer ties to AQIM in terms of training and ideology than Boko Haram.
The renewed bombings in Jos and Kano have also been linked to the revived relations between Boko Haram and Ansaru.
Ansaru’s leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, has been designated a global terrorist by the US and also declared wanted by Nigerian authorities.