Boko Haram jihadists abducted around 50 loggers near the northeastern Nigerian town of Gamboru close to the border with Cameroon, civilian militia and residents told AFP Thursday.
The hostages who are mostly from a camp for people displaced by jihadist violence were on Saturday rounded up by fighters loyal to factional leader Abubakar Shekau while collecting wood at Bulakesa village, 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Gamboru in Borno state.
“The men were rounded up and taken away by Boko Haram insurgents and nothing has been heard from them,” militia leader Umar Kachalla said.
“Two of the loggers escaped and returned home and broke the news.
“We don’t have a precise number of those taken but usually the loggers move in a group of more than 50 men,” Kachalla said.
The loggers were encouraged to venture deep into the bush to collect firewood by a recent military operation that pushed the jihadists out of the area, another militia Shehu Mada said.
Last month troops dislodged the militants from the nearby town of Wulgo and surrounding areas following incessant attacks on loggers.
“The general assumption was that the insurgents had left the area only to suddenly appear and encircle the loggers,” Mada said.
Some of the loggers joined the team to collect metals from the shells of vehicles destroyed in the military offensive against the fighters, he said.
“We believe the number of the those abducted exceeds 50,” said Gamboru resident Babagana Musa.
The story was slow to emerge due to limited communications with Gamboru residents.
The area has for several years been without telecom facilities following the destruction of telecom masts in Boko Haram attacks, forcing residents to rely on Cameroon mobile phone networks.
Gamboru loggers have suffered repeated Boko Haram attacks and abductions especially around Wulgo forest which was a known Boko Haram hideout.
In April Boko Haram militants gunned down 18 loggers at the edge of Wulgo forest, 15 kilometres from Gamboru, while returning from collecting wood.
In January at least 31 loggers went missing and were believed to have been abducted by the jihadists near Wulgo, where 10 loggers were killed two weeks earlier.
Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency against the government of Nigeria has spilled into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, killing around 27,000 people and displacing 1.8 million.
In 2014, in a case that shocked the world, Boko Haram gunmen seized 276 girls aged 12 to 17 from a secondary school in the remote town of Chibok, also in Borno state.
Most of those displaced by the unrest rely on food handouts from aid agencies while others have turned to felling trees in the arid region for firewood which they sell to buy food.
The jihadists have increasingly targeted loggers and farmers, accusing them of spying and passing information to the military and the local militia fighting them.
On Monday the jihadists killed nine farmers and abducted 12 others when they opened fire as they worked on their fields outside Mammanti village, near the regional capital Maiduguri.
In August 2014 the group seized Gamboru, a trading hub, along with the neighbouring town of Ngala.
Nigerian troops retook both towns in September 2015 with the help of Chadian forces following offensives lasting months.
Despite the recapture of the area which saw residents moving back, Boko Haram fighters continue to launch sporadic attacks, ambushing troops and vehicles, as well as attacking and abducting farmers.