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Outrageous demands, deafening silence leave families of abducted train passengers jittery

Almost two weeks after terrorists launched a daring attack on a Kaduna-bound train, relatives and friends of the abducted passengers say they are left confused…

Almost two weeks after terrorists launched a daring attack on a Kaduna-bound train, relatives and friends of the abducted passengers say they are left confused as to the outlandish attitude of the terrorists. 

At least nine people were killed when gunmen detonated explosive devices on Nigeria’s first standard gauge railway track and opened fire on the coaches carrying about 362 passenger who boarded the train from Nigeria’s capital to Kaduna State in the north west. 

The Nigeria Railway Corporation has confirmed that the whereabouts of about 167 passengers in the train is unknown, narrowing a possibility that the missing passengers could be in the hands of terrorists.        

Daily Trust Saturday reports that ordinarily, when bandits abduct travellers, the communication lines open a few days later and negotiations with family members commence almost immediately. This time around, however, some relatives say the terrorists appear distant, uninterested and even more condescending than ever. In some instances, the terrorists find family members who are eager to negotiate ransom a nuisance. 

Our correspondent who spoke with some family members gathered that there is no strait-jacket approach to dealing with the terrorists. While others have been asked to raise outrageous amounts as ransom to free their relatives, some say there has been a deafening silence since the first contact was made. In some cases, relatives say the terrorists have gone as far as warning them not to contact them again, unless the terrorists feel the need to reach out.  

For fear of identification and in order not to jeopardise the lives of those in captivity, some family members who spoke with our correspondent requested the use of pseudonyms. One of such, Khalil Ahmed, whose father was abducted while returning from the All Progressives Congress (APC) convention in Abuja, said the terrorists had reached out to the family two days after the attack. He said a few days later, however, the terrorists had reached out again demanding for N100m as ransom. He said it was not until Tuesday that the terrorists called the third time to reduce the ransom to N60m.

“We are worried because we don’t even know where to start from. Where can we get such huge amount of money? When they called, they rendered insults on us, they didn’t listen to our please that our father is ill and aged and their calls usually do not last a minute,” he said. 

He narrated how the terrorists only barked instructions and were always in a hurry to disconnect the lines, perhaps to avoid being tracked by security agencies. “When we tried to call them back, they warned us never to call again and instead, told us they will reach out to us when they want to speak with us,” he said.

However, for the family of Abu Sufyan, two members of their family were abducted while returning from Abuja to their home in Zaria, Kaduna State. Abdullahi Ahmad, a member of the family, said the terrorists had called once to inform them that their father and sister were in their custody. Ahmed who said he was able to speak with their aged father explained that his legs were swollen from the chains used on their legs. He, however, said they had assured him that his father was in good health, adding that, “they asked us to await further instructions but they have not called us back.”

“We do not know how much they will demand but to prepare for any eventuality, we sold our father’s land for N3m and we are ready to send the money to them. We just want our father and sister back alive,” he said.

While others have expressed shock as to the large sums of money being demanded by the terrorists, some relatives say a deafening silence from the terrorists invokes apprehension. Hashim Ibrahim, whose friend was abducted, said the terrorists had only called once to inform them that their friend was in their custody. He said noticing that the terrorists had not called back, they made frantic attempt to reach them on phone but could not. A few days later when the number connected, Ibrahim said the terrorists had warned them never to call back.

“We called severally and it appeared they were ignoring us because the calls were either not getting through or they were not answering. Then on Monday, when we called, someone answered and when we tried to ask of our friend’s wellbeing, he told us never to call back, that they will reach out to us when they are ready,” he said. 

He however said the alleged payment of N100m to secure the release of the Managing Director, Bank of Agriculture, Alwan Ali-Hassan, may have put the lives of the over 100 captives in danger.

“We heard they paid over N100m to secure his release and we fear that, that action has put the lives of other captives in danger because he has raised the bar on ransom and the terrorists may now demand we pay if not the same, but close to that amount,” he said.