Nigeria: Gunmen attack passenger train. Elsewhere, a third priest is kidnapped.
Attackers used explosives to first blow up the rail track before opening fire on the train near Abuja in northwest Nigeria, according to Fidet Okhiria, chief executive of the state-owned Nigerian Railway Corporation.
The Abuja-Kaduna route is popular
Many people are also feared to have been abducted during the “unprecedented” attack, said Okhiria. Authorities could not immediately confirm the number of passengers on the train, but local media reported that nearly 1,000 were on board.
“There were casualties, but we have not been able to confirm the number,” said Okhiria, calling the attack a major setback. It is the latest in a series of other train attacks. Abdulwadud Ahmad, a survivor, said he knew of nine passengers killed, including someone sitting close to him. “They bombed the track and started exchanging fire with the security inside the train,” he told the AP.
Many people feared killed
“They subdued the security, then came into the train ... and kidnapped a lot of people. They killed some people intentionally while some (were killed) with stray bullets.” The train service is a popular route for many in Nigeria’s capital and the neighbouring Kaduna state as travellers continue to stay away from roads notorious for kidnappings. The attack occurred in Katari in Kaduna state, 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Nigeria’s capital, triggering fears and concerns over the safety of Abuja. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion quickly fell on the armed groups who have carried out thousands of abductions and killings in the northwest and central states of the West African nation.
The train service on the route has been suspended with immediate effect, the railway executive said, as the Nigerian military and the police continue to “comb through the areas” in search of passengers, many of whom are feared to have been abducted. The state government in Kaduna — one of the states worst hit by the cycle of violence in Nigeria’s troubled northern region — said it has completed the evacuation of “trapped” passengers with help from the security forces.
Significant security setback
“Passengers who sustained injuries and other fatalities have been moved to hospitals,” Samuel Aruwan, the state commissioner for security, said in a statement. He added that passengers were rescued from “different hard-to-reach areas in forests and rocky locations” amid eyewitness accounts that some passengers escaped in the middle of the gunfire. There have been at least three attacks reported on the Abuja-Kaduna train service in the last year, often carried out by the armed groups in Nigeria’s troubled north whom authorities have declared terrorist organisations.
Nigerian authorities are either under-assessing the declining security situation at hand or underrating the capability of the gunmen, said Oluwaseyi Adetayo, a security expert and former officer of the Nigerian secret police, the Department of State Services. “We continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results,” he said. “We need to develop a bigger approach rather than a quick fix.”
A third Catholic priest kidnapped this month
Meanwhile, Agenzia Fides reports that a third Catholic priest and other villagers have been kidnapped by gunmen in another incident.
Nigerian Father Leo Raphael Ozigi is the third priest kidnapped in March. He is the parish priest of St Mary’s Sarkin Pawa village, in the local government area of Munya, Niger state.
According to reports, Fr Ozigi was kidnapped by bandits on Sunday evening along with 44 other villagers.
“Fr. Leo Raphael Ozigi was abducted while returning to Gwada after Sunday Mass in Sarkin Pawa”, confirmed Rev. Raphael Opawoye, secretary of the Niger State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Chaotic scenes as bandits attacked villages
The village where the priest was abducted along with other residents is just one of at least six villages in Munya governorate that were attacked between Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 March. Bandits laid siege to the Kuchi-Chibani link road, raiding and looting villages along the road, forcing residents to flee. Raids in Niger state continued into Monday, 28 March, when bandits raided the village of Kabo in Gurara local governorate, killing at least three people.
In addition to Father Ozigi, two other priests were kidnapped in Nigeria in March alone, both in the northern state of Kaduna: Father Joseph Akete Bako, parish priest of St. John’s Church in Kudenda in the local government area of Kaduna South. He was abducted on the night of 8 March in an assault on the parish house, during which a person was killed
Fr. Felix Zakari Fidson of the Diocese of Zaria was kidnapped on 24 March 24.