A large number of Boko Haram terrorists have moved out of their base in the North-East to join forces with criminal gangs in the North-West, where they are engaged in weapons training and kidnapping.
A report by AFP quoted military sources as having confirmed this.
Following the death of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, the group and the Islamic State-allied rivals have been consolidating their grip on the North-East.
Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has been moving into Boko Haram’s territory, fighting Shekau loyalists, assimilating some or forcing others to surrender to the armed forces, security sources said.
Details of the movement of Boko Haram fighters could be the latest sign of cooperation between jihadists and criminal armed groups in the North-West, who raid and loot villages and conduct mass abductions for ransom.
Two military sources said a faction loyal to Shekau based in Borno State had dispatched two commanders and 250 fighters to the Rijana forests in northwestern Kaduna State.
Both commanders are allied with Bakoura Buduma, a Boko Haram chief who remains loyal to Shekau and whose fighters are resisting ISWAP consolidation, according to security sources.
“They are the masterminds behind some of the abductions in the North-West,” one of the military sources said.
Both sources said Boko Haram militants were also training the gangs, known locally as bandits, in the use of anti-aircraft guns and explosives, and other weapons.
The military spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment. Kaduna State officials also did not immediately reply to a request for confirmation.
Analysts said there had been growing signs that jihadists and bandit gangs were developing deeper ties where both stood to gain: Jihadists supply arms while profiting from criminal activity.
North-West Nigeria has long been plagued by bandit groups, but this year, attacks and kidnappings have surged.
The revelation comes two weeks after the State Security Service (SSS), also called the Department of State Services (DSS) asked security agencies in Kaduna to brace themselves for likely attacks.
It noted that leaders and foot soldiers of the Boko Haram terrorist sect have relocated to a forest in Southern Kaduna from Sambisa Forest.
In a memo seen by Peoples Gazette, the terrorists are said to have relocated from Sambisa Forest in Borno state to Rijana Forest in the Chikun local government area of Kaduna.
The newspaper quoted part of the memo as saying a “senior Boko Haram fighter, Ibrahim (FNU) alongside his foot soldiers” were relocating to join their counterparts “under the leadership of one Adamu Yunusu (aka Saddiqu)”.
The DSS, therefore, ordered the officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to tighten security in the “aforementioned areas and environs,” adding that its operatives “should be placed on alert and report accordingly”.
According to the memo, the NSCDC was also “directed to step up surveillance and intelligence gathering on the aforementioned areas and environs”.
Recently, the Army Public Relations Director, Brig. Gen. Onyeama Nwachukwu, said ISWAP terrorist group has commenced a massive recruitment drive after thousands of Boko Haram insurgents ‘repented’ and surrendered to the military.
The Director noted that the military would not relent in its fight against terrorism.
He, however, urged members of the public to be observant in their communities.