Boko Haram jihadists have seized about 40 loggers and killed three others in north-east Nigeria near the border with Cameroon, militia sources and residents have said.
The hostages were rounded up by the insurgents on Thursday in Wulgo forest near the town of Gamboru, where they went to collect firewood, the sources said.
The jihadists have increasingly targeted loggers and farmers in the north-east, accusing them of passing information to the military and local militias.
“A group of more than 40 loggers left Shehuri on the outskirts of Gamboru on Thursday and never returned by evening as usual,” said militia leader Umar Kachalla, who was involved in the search. “On Friday we mobilised men and went deep into the forest where we recovered three bodies identified to be among the loggers, without a trace of their colleagues.”
The missing loggers were presumed kidnapped by the jihadists, who are known to maintain camps in the forest, said Kachalla, a view widely shared in the area.
“We believe the men were taken by Boko Haram who have been attacking loggers in the forest,” said another militia member, Shehu Mada. “From all indication the three dead loggers were shot when they tried to escape as they all were shot from behind.”
The area has been without telephone services for years after the destruction of masts in Boko Haram attacks, forcing people to rely on Cameroon mobile phone networks.
Gamboru loggers have suffered repeated Boko Haram attacks and abductions, especially around Wulgo forest which was a known Boko Haram hideout.
In November 2018, Boko Haram seized about 50 loggers on their way to collect firewood in the forest, after killing 49 in two previous attacks.
Military authorities had warned loggers not to venture deep into the forest to avoid the insurgents, resident Babandi Abdullahi said. People are compelled to risk going deep into the forest because nearby vegetation has been depleted by constant logging, he said.
Boko Haram and a splinter group known as ISWAP have killed 36,000 people in the north-east and forced roughly 2 million to flee since 2009, according to the United Nations.
Most recently, the group claimed responsibility for the kidnap of more than 300 schoolboys in Katsina in northern Nigeria. The boys were returned to their homes in mid-December.