Three loggers have been found dead and at least 40 more feared abducted by Boko Haram fighters in northeastern Nigeria.
Sources and residents told AFP news agency on Saturday that the loggers were rounded up by the fighters on Thursday in Wulgo forest near the town of Gamboru where they went to collect firewood.
“A group of more than 40 loggers left Shehuri on the outskirts of Gamboru on Thursday and never returned by evening as usual,” said a group leader Umar Kachalla, who was involved in the search.
“On Friday, we mobilised men and went deep into the forest where we recovered three bodies identified to be among the loggers, without a trace of their colleagues.”
The missing loggers were presumed kidnapped by the group, who are known to maintain camps in the forest, said Kachalla, a view widely shared by other residents.
The fighters have increasingly targeted loggers and farmers in the northeast, accusing them of passing information to the military and local armed groups.
“We believe the men were taken by Boko Haram who have been attacking loggers in the forest,” said Shehu Mada, leader of another armed group.
“From all indication, the three dead loggers were shot when they tried to escape as they all were shot from behind.”
The area has been without telephone services for years following the destruction of masts in Boko Haram attacks, forcing residents to rely on Cameroon’s mobile phone networks.
Gamboru loggers have suffered repeated Boko Haram attacks and abductions, especially around Wulgo forest.
In November 2018, Boko Haram seized some 50 loggers on their way to collect firewood in the forest, after killing 49 loggers in two previous attacks.
Babandi Abdullahi, a resident, said military officials had warned loggers not to venture deep into the forest to avoid the attacks.
People are compelled to take that risk because nearby vegetation has been depleted by constant logging, Abdullahi said.
According to the UN, Boko Haram and a splinter group known as ISWAP have killed 36,000 people in the northeast and forced roughly two million to flee since 2009.
Earlier this month, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of more than 300 schoolboys who were taken after an attack on their school in Katsina’s Kankara village, in northwest Nigeria. All the boys have since been rescued.