The fast-growing new terrorist group, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis- Sudan (a.k.a JAMBS), on Monday claimed responsibility for Sunday’s seizure of six foreign workers in Bauchi.
A guard was also killed during the raid on the company’s premises where the expatriates were kidnapped.
The victims are believed to include an Italian, a Filipino, a Briton, one Greek and a Lebanese.
They were working on a construction project when the militants attacked on Sunday, reports say.
JAMBS, believed to have been a breakaway faction of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, had similarly claimed responsibility for the attack on Nigerian soldiers on their way to Mali last month.
In the attack on the soldiers on Okene-Lokoja Road, in Kogi State, two soldiers and many others were said to be injured during a gunfight that ensued.
The group, according to a BBC report, announced that it was behind Sunday’s kidnapping in an email, saying it had “the custody of seven persons, which include Lebanese and their European counterparts” working with a construction firm, Setraco.
On Monday, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office would still not confirm or deny reports that a Briton was among those held.
The kidnappers of the six foreigners said to be about 24, armed with rifles and dynamites, were said to have blown up two separate spots at the facility and escaped with the hostages, including those seized from the club house.
The incident has precipitated a fresh travel alert by the British and American embassies, warning their citizens to avoid troubled states in Nigeria.
The embassies updated their travel warnings on Monday, asking their citizens against all but essential travel to some states of the federation.
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, in Abuja, on Monday, the Political Officer in the British High Commission, in Abuja, Mr. Robert Fitzpatrick, said, “We are aware of reports that a number of foreign nationals, including a British national, working for a construction company were abducted on the 16 of February in Bauchi State, we are in contact with the Nigerian authorities.”
He could however, not confirm whether one of the kidnapped foreigners is a British national.
A travel advisory on the British High Commission website said, “We are currently investigating reports that foreign nationals were abducted by armed men from their accommodation in Bauchi State on 16 February.
“We advise against all travel to some areas of Nigeria and against all but essential travel to other areas, including Kaduna, and Zaria cities. There is a high threat from terrorism in Nigeria. This threat is sustained, including due to a terrorist threat of retaliatory attacks following the French intervention in Mali.
“You are advised to exercise caution and observe vigilance at all times, particularly in areas where there are political or other large public gatherings.”
In the case of the US, the Embassy alerted its citizens that seven expatriates were kidnapped from a construction company compound in Jama’are, Bauchi State, on the evening of February 16.
“There were no US citizens taken. Over the past year, extremists attacked many locations in Nigeria, killing and injuring hundreds of people. They have threatened churches, mosques, media houses, police stations, immigration and customs offices, transportation centres, financial institutions, large hotels, shopping malls and markets, state government offices, communications centres, beer gardens, and nightclubs.
“Attackers have also damaged and destroyed public and private schools, educational institutions, cell towers, electrical stations, and churches in many northern and central states. Additionally, extremists continue to target westerners for abduction. The security situation in some parts of Nigeria remains fluid and unpredictable.”
It advised US citizens to review their “personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates.
“Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instruction of local authorities.
“We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Nigeria enrol in the Department of State’s Smart Traveller Enrolment Programme (STEP). STEP enrolment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you do not have internet access, enrol directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.”
Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, has ordered a massive manhunt for the kidnappers.
Abubakar was said to have directed the Bauchi State Commissioner of Police to do everything possible to arrest the abductors and rescue their victims.
“There was an attack on the Setraco construction company site in Jama’are town (in Bauchi State) by unknown gunmen. Six company staff, including two expatriates, were kidnapped. They killed the security guard at the site, ” Bauchi State Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Ladan said.
The same gunmen had earlier attacked the prison and a police station in Jama’are, which lies about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from Bauchi city, but were repelled, Ladan added.
Speaking to one of our correspondents in Abuja on Monday, Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, explained that the police had deployed crack detectives after the kidnappers.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday ordered all security agencies in the country to ensure that they locate the kidnapped foreign construction workers and rescue them from the kidnappers’ den.
The President’s directive was contained in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati.
He assured the relatives of the captives and the governments of their countries that the Federal Government and security agencies would not leave any stone unturned to ensure that the abductors were apprehended and the captives released.
The statement read in part, “President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered the nation’s security agencies to take all necessary actions to locate and rescue the foreign construction workers who were abducted from their camp by terrorists in Bauchi State.
“He assures the relatives of the kidnapped foreign workers as well as the governments of their countries that the Federal Government and its security agencies are doing everything possible to find their abductors and ensure the safe release of all those they abducted.”
While condemning the kidnapping of the workers, Jonathan reaffirmed the Federal Government’s total commitment to stamping out all forms of terrorism and abduction in the country.
Jonathan’s assurance came even as Setraco has evacuated all its foreign workers from Bauchi.
The Public Relations Officer of the company, Abu Malik, told journalists on Monday that the foreign workers had all been evacuated to Abuja temporarily.
He said the operation of the Setraco Construction Company in Jamare had also been shut down until further notice.