Air strikes, floods displace Nigeria jihadists
Hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists fled a forest enclave in northeastern Nigeria fleeing military airstrikes and flooding from torrential rains to seek refuge on the Niger side of Lake Chad, sources told AFP.
Northeastern Nigeria faces a 13-year armed insurgency by jihadist groups that killed more than 40,000 people and displaced about two million from their homes.
Violence spread to neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and jihadists held camps in the vast Lake Chad region spanning four countries.
A Nigerian security source said Boko Haram militants have since last month withdrew from the Sambisa Forest due to a prolonged bombing campaign on their hideouts.
Nigeria has also recorded a more intense rainy season, which usually lasts from May to September, with floods occurring in almost every part of the country.
“The withdrawal of Boko Haram terrorists has increased in recent days as bombings have intensified combined with floods that have flooded many of their camps,” said a source in the region's security service, who asked not to be identified.
On Monday, a convoy of more than 50 trucks carrying Boko Haram fighters and their families passed through villages along a route linking Sambisa to Lake Chad, several residents in the region said.
The fighters are believed to be loyal to Bakura Buduma, the leader of the Boko Haram faction, sources said.
The convoy passed through the Maf Forest in Jere and Koshob before crossing between the cities of Gajiram and Gasarwa on a 135-kilometer (85-mile) highway connecting the regional capital Maiduguri and the garrison city of Monguno, sources said.
“They (Boko Haram) crossed the highway in batches of 10 vehicles at a time under the supervision of heavily armed fighters,” said Laminu Kontoma, a resident of the area.
After crossing the highway, the convoy moved into the Gudumbali Forest, from where they left in Gaidam, before traversing the river into abadam district on the border with Niger, said another resident, Bunami Garga.
“The Boko Haram convoy is definitely heading to the islands on Lake Chad in the Bosso district of Niger, where the group has camps,” said a fisherman named Calla Sani, who said he was familiar with Boko Haram's movements in the region.
Niger authorities could not immediately confirm the movement.
Those heading to Niger are Boko Haram fighters who were buried in parts of the Sambisa forest that remained under the group's control after it lost its rival position, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
ISWAP separated from Boko Haram in 2016, evolving into a dominant jihadist group that focuses more on attacks on military bases and ambushes on troops rather than civilians.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was killed in May 2021 in a clash with ISWAP that also captured much of the group's territory in Sambis.
Some Boko Haram fighters moved out of Sambisa towards forests in the northwest, where they made alliances with criminal gangs involved in looting and kidnapping for ransom, according to a Nigerian intelligence report.