Members of the notorious Ansaru terrorist group have commenced massive recruitment of residents around communities in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Daily Trust has gathered.
Ansaru, a splinter group of the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists, has been operating in Birnin Gwari villages for years.
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On Wednesday, Daily Trust gathered that members of the group had besieged the villages of Damari, Farin Ruwa, Kwasa Kwasa, Kuyello, Gobirawa as well as Tabanni, Kutemeshi and Kazage in a clandestine recruitment strategy masked in the form of Sallah celebration with the people.
A cross-section of villagers who spoke with our correspondents said the terrorists distributed Sallah gifts in the form of biscuits, performed motorcycle stunts to the delight of villagers and distributed pamphlets, flash disks and other accessories on the activities of the group.
Birnin Gwari, located in Kaduna Central Senatorial District has been infiltrated by bandits with the southern and eastern parts of the area being the worst hit.
Our correspondents report that in October 2021, a violent clash between members of the Ansaru group and bandits claimed the lives of at least 30 bandits around the Damari axis of the same LGA.
Multiple sources had confirmed to Daily Trust that the clash, which was a battle for supremacy came three weeks after members of the terrorist group who were fleeing the military onslaught in Zamfara State took refuge in Saulawa and Damari where they hoisted their flags.
On April 5 this year, terrorists suspected to be members of the group attacked a military formation along the Kaduna-Birnin Gwari highway and killed 11 soldiers, four villagers and injured many others.
The terrorists also bombed two Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) attached to the security personnel.
When contacted, Kaduna State Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, said the government was aware of the threat by the Ansaru having received intelligence report.
He said the issue has been reported to the appropriate authorities.
Content of the pamphlet
A five-page pamphlet titled; We are not Boko Haram but Ansaru, was said to have been circulated by members of the Ansaru group in an attempt to lure residents to join their group.
Daily Trust analysed that the pamphlet was written in the form of questions and answers. It stated that “Our name is Jama’atul Ansaril Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan.”
The pamphlet also claimed that the group’s mission is pure jihad, free of extremism to praise the words of Allah, adding that its difference from other jihadist groups is that its ideology is based on the Sunnah of the Prophet and past scholars. But security experts who spoke to our correspondents dismissed the claim, saying the government, clerics and traditional rulers must rise to the occasion so as to avoid a repeat of what happened in the North East.
They said people with extreme religious tendencies are fond of using soft words to deceive the gullible to submission before showing their violent disposition, which is against the teaching of Islam.
The group said in the leaflet; “Whoever believes in Shahada and faces Qibla (the east) to pray is considered a Muslim to us and so deserves to be protected just as we would protect ourselves and our family members. We will celebrate with him in times of happiness and mourn with him in terms of sorrow. He is free from our harm and we are not going to hand him over to his enemies.
“Planting bombs in markets, mosques and motor parks among other places is not what we believe in because, in these places, the majority of the casualties are the poor people. We are not out for materialism because if this is what we wanted, we would have remained in our parents’ houses to enjoy the world. We are also not out to seek for positions or support any political party or tribe or any worldly thing.”
They are our saviours from bandits – Locals
Sources from the affected communities told our correspondents that the group besieged several communities on motorcycles to rejoice and preach to residents against indulging in any celebration that was against the tenets of Islam.
It was also gathered that sadly, some unsuspecting residents welcomed the terror group as their protectors or saviours against armed bandits terrorising their communities. A resident of one of the communities, Musa Ibrahim, who confirmed the presence of the terror group said they had joined locals in riding motorcycles before they distributed biscuits to the people.
“They visited the Kuyello area, Tabanni, Kutemeshi and also my village, which is Kazage to join the people in the Sallah celebration.
“They participated in motorcycle stunts within the communities; nobody was harmed and they warned against indulging in any dangerous play. They equally preached and shared biscuits to the people,” he said.
He said they were not bothered by the activities of the group, but in fact, welcomed them as saviours from bandits. “With their presence, bandits will dare not attack our communities,” he said.
Another resident of the Kuyello area said the terrorists had shared pamphlets a day before Sallah, calling on the residents to join their group as they wished them happy Eid-el-Fitr. He explained that the group was not known to attack the people but preach about Islam and offer protection to locals against bandits.
“They called on people to join their group during preaching, telling us that they are not Boko Haram,” he said, adding that even though they did not access the centre of Kuyello town, they had visited its surrounding villages to preach. Muhammadu Isa, a resident of Kuyello confirmed that many youths have expressed interest in joining the group even if it means for protection against bandits.
“There are some communities where members of Ansaru provide access to residents to go to their farms and guard the residents while at farms,” he said.
‘They’ve filled the vacuum created by govt’
Similarly, a local vigilante leader in Damari said since the government has allegedly failed to protect the people, many locals have resolved to find protection by joining the Ansaru group.
“We are tired of talking about one thing and if joining the terror group is what will give us protection against the bandits, I think it’s a risk our people are willing to take,” he said.
Recruitment strategy is similar to Boko Haram -Experts
A security expert on activities of terrorist groups in Northern Nigeria, Musa Baba explained that what members of the Ansaru group were presently doing in Birnin Gwari was similar to the strategy employed by members of Boko Haram to lure Nigerians to join their movement.
“This was how Boko Haram started. It is the same strategy they used to get a lot of followers; through economic empowerment and by providing resources to the people. So, if you look at what is happening with Ansaru in Kaduna, Ansaru is a breakaway of Boko Haram and so has the same ideology, using the same strategy to get people to join them,” he said.
Baba explained that looking at the current economic situation and the hardship, especially among rural farming communities that have been denied access to their farmlands by bandits, it is no wonder the people will be vulnerable to Ansaru tactics.
“With the coming of Ansaru, they are now preaching to the people that they are going to protect them from the bandits and also from atrocities committed against them by government authorities, but this is purely a recruitment drive to get a lot of followers so they can continue to strike,” he said.
He warned that this protection deceit offered by the group will only last at the initial stage, adding that, with time, the people will be put under taxes and levies, they will be made to farm for the terrorists and they will be asked to commit all kinds of atrocities.
“Their girls will be married off to members of the Ansaru, the menace will start to come out and by then, it will be too late because the people will not have the boldness to say no since any resistance at that time will be met by violence. They will establish a caliphate system where everything will be done under their laws,” he said.
He explained that the only reason why members of Ansaru had not been confrontational around the Kaduna axis in the past was because they were few at the beginning as the forest areas were dominated by the bandits and kidnappers.
“They are now becoming stronger and want to dominate. The attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train on March 28 shows that they are planning and they are now all out because they know they can overrun security personnel.
“I do believe the attack on the train was carried out by the Ansaru even though it has not been confirmed. They are holding for the release of their commanders and other members,” he said.
There was no immediate response from the Kaduna government or security operatives in the state before going to the press.