Hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists have fled a forest enclave in northeastern Nigeria, fleeing military airstrikes and flooding from torrential rain, to seek shelter on Niger’s side of Lake Chad, sources told AFP.
Northeastern Nigeria faces a 13-year armed insurgency by jihadist groups that has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced about two million from their homes.
The violence has spilled over into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, with the jihadists camped in the vast Lake Chad region that spans the four countries.
A Nigerian security source said there has been an exodus of Boko Haram militants from the Sambisa Forest since last month as a result of an ongoing bombing campaign at their shelters.
Nigeria also has a more intense rainy season, usually from May to September, and floods have occurred in almost every part of the country.
“The exodus of the Boko Haram terrorists has increased in recent days as the bombing has intensified, coupled with the flooding that submerged many of their camps,” said the region’s security source 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 on a route connecting Sambisa to Lake Chad, several residents of the region said.
The fighters are believed to be loyal to Bakura Buduma, a Boko Haram faction leader, the sources said.
The convoy drove through the Mafa forest to Jere and Koshobe, before crossing between the towns of Gajiram and Gasarwa on the 135-mile highway connecting the regional capital Maiduguri and the garrison town of Monguno, the sources said.
“They (Boko Haram) crossed the highway in groups 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 entered the Gudumbali Forest, from where they emerged at Gaidam, before crossing a river to the Abadam district on the Niger border, another resident, Bunami Garga, said.
“The Boko Haram convoy is definitely headed for the islands on Lake Chad in the Bosso area of Niger, where the group has camps,” said a fisherman named Kallah Sani who was familiar with Boko Haram’s movements in the region.
Niger authorities were unable to immediately confirm the move.
– power struggle –
Those on their way to Niger are Boko Haram fighters who had holed up in parts of the Sambisa Forest that remained under the group’s control after it lost ground to a rival, the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) .
ISWAP split from Boko Haram in 2016 and grew into a dominant jihadist group that focuses more on attacking military bases and raiding troops rather than civilians.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was killed in May 2021 during the infighting with ISWAP, which also occupied most of the group’s territory in Sambisa.
Some Boko Haram fighters moved from Sambisa to forests in the northwest, where they forged alliances with criminal gangs involved in looting and kidnappings for ransom, according to a report by Nigerian intelligence.