Suspected Boko Haram militants have abducted more than 60 women and girls, some as young as three, in the latest kidnappings in northeast Nigeria over two months since more than 200 schoolgirls were seized.
Analysts said the kidnapping, which happened during a raid late Monday on Kummabza village in the Damboa district of Borno state, could be an attempt by the Islamist group to refocus attention on its demands for the release of militant fighters.
Boko Haram has indicated it would be willing to release the 219 schoolgirls that it has held hostage since April 14 in exchange for the freedom of its brothers-in-arms now held in Nigerian jails.
Nigeria initially refused to sanction any deal, but efforts have since been made to open talks with the group, with a possible prisoner swap part of discussions.
The military in Abuja said in a tweet late on Monday it could not confirm the latest abductions, and spokesmen were not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP on Tuesday.
But Borno senator Ali Ndume confirmed the abductions, and said Boko Haram “took advantage” as people returned to the area to check on their farms during flooding when there was no military presence in the area.
“Boko Haram selected young males and females” as hostages, and “left the elderly”, he said, amid local media reports that some 30 young boys may have also been taken.
A senior officer in the Damboa local government said: “Over 60 women were hijacked and forcefully taken away by the terrorists.
“The village was also destroyed,” he said, adding that “among those abducted are children between the ages of three and 12”.
Meanwhile, security forces in neighbouring Cameroon killed eight gunmen believed to be members of Boko Haram, a paramilitary officer said there Tuesday.
The far north of Cameroon has become a hotbed of Boko Haram activity, with its porous borders making it an easy staging post for attacks and kidnappings in Nigeria.
A mixed squad of soldiers and paramilitary officers were patrolling the area around the town of Mora when they came across “a dozen Islamists”, the officer from regional capital Maroua said on condition of anonymity.
“Clashes broke out and our forces got the upper hand. Eight Boko Haram were killed,” he said.