Troops in northwest Nigeria killed 21 ‘bandits,’ detained 17 others and freed 89 people who had been kidnapped, the army said.
As part of Operation Sharan Daji, Nigerian troops continued operations in “bandits’ enclaves” in Zamfara and Katsina states, Major Clement K. Abiade said in a statement published on Facebook on Tuesday, January 29 that covered activity over the previous week.
On January 22, in one of several encounters with bandits in both states, troops in Gando Forest “came into contact with a large gang of bandits armed with sophisticated firearms and Rocket Propelled Grenades leading to fierce gun battles which lasted several hours,” Abiade said, adding that the bandits were forced to abandon their camps.
Abiade said that 21 bandits were “neutralized” in encounters with soldiers, while 17 were captured alive, and some camps were destroyed.
A total of 89 people who had been kidnapped, mostly from local communities, were freed after debriefing, 55 of whom were held captive in Bukkuyum local government area in Zamfara state.
During the period, 11 civilians and a vigilante were killed by bandits, Abiade said.
Troops recovered various items including a “single barrel gun,” two locally made pistols, and AK-type magazine and 78 rounds ammunition, two Dane guns, four motorcycles and a “large quantity of Indian hemp and illicit drugs.”
Launched in early 2016, Operation Sharan Daji was established to fight against cattle rustling and banditry in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi states in nortwest Nigeria, according to the military.
What the army terms ‘clearance operations’ commenced in Zamfara and Katsina states in recent weeks. In its last update the army said two Nigerian soldiers and two ‘members of the vigilante’ were killed while 58 ‘bandits’ were “neutralized” as troops destroyed 18 camps and freed 75 people who had been kidnapped.
For years, farming and cattle herding communities in Zamfara have been targeted by gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, steal cows and abduct locals for ransom.
In the last two years, kidnapping for ransom has reached unprecedented levels in the region, where entire villages have been deserted for fear of raids and kidnapping by criminal gangs.
Those abducted are often released within days if the ransom is paid but residents say they can be killed if no money is forthcoming, and their bodies dumped in the bush.
The region has been hit by violent crime over the past year, with Amnesty International warning last July that people living in the impoverished state were “at the mercy” of armed bandits who take hostages and raid villages.
As a hideout, the gangs use the Ruggu forest which straddles Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states.
The attacks have prompted villagers to form militia groups for protection but they, too, have been accused of taking the law into their own hands and killing suspected bandits.
Those killings attract reprisals from motorcycle-riding criminal gangs, who carry out indiscriminate killings and arson in retaliation.