Terrorists operating in Niger State shot down a helicopter belonging to the Nigerian Air Force on Monday, Aug. 14.
The incident happened in Chukuba, in the Shiroro area of North-central Nigeria.
A security source told HumAngle that terrorists loyal to Abubakar Abdallah, known as Dogo Gide, were responsible. Dogo Gide’s group has been attacking many communities in Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, and Zamfara in the northwestern and north-central regions of the country for several years.
Locals said the aircraft was on a mission to evacuate deceased soldiers, killed in a forest gunbattle in the Chukuba area, when the terrorists shot it down.
After bringing down the helicopter and killing all onboard, the terrorists burned the aircraft completely. HumAngle understands that the aircraft had made several trips evacuating the dead and wounded before it was brought down. The evacuated bodies had been deposited at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Zungeru.
The armed group had reportedly operated in the axis unhindered for three days, pillaging villages and rustling cattle before the military engaged them in a gun duel. There were casualties on both sides.
“The soldiers killed dozens of terrorists but lost 12 of their men,” said Aminu Sahidu, a resident of Chukuba. “And the terrorists could not run away with the over 700 cows they had stolen.”
A few hours later, terrorists gunned down a helicopter “hovering around the airspace of some Niger communities,” said Yusuf Kokki, the convener of the Concerned Shiroro Youths. He noted in a press statement that residents were seen fleeing the scene of the incident to seek refuge in safer towns.
Meanwhile, NAF spokesperson Edward Gabkwet said the aircraft, a Mi-171 helicopter, was “discovered to have crashed” in a statement released yesterday without stating why. “Efforts are currently ongoing to rescue the crew and passengers on board the helicopter, while preliminary investigations have commenced to determine the probable cause of the crash,” he said.
The Chief Press Secretary of the Niger state governor, Mohammed Umaru Bago, said the government sympathised with NAF over the incident.
Sadeeq Sheu, a security reform and crisis communications expert, urged the Air Force to always give details of the causes and fatalities of aircraft crashes to avoid speculations and putting Nigerians in darkness.
“As somebody who has handled the directorate of information of the air force, I know that bad news like losses is what the military all over the world are reluctant to break,” Sheu said during a Tuesday morning show that HumAngle monitored on Channels TV. “But experience has shown that hiding such information is not the best.”
A terrible trend
It is not the first time terrorists in the region have downed an aircraft.
In July 2021, terrorists shot down a military jet on the border between Zamfara and Kaduna states following a raid on a kidnapping gang.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) stated in an Oct. 2021 report that terrorists operating in Nigeria’s northwestern region had the means to bring down aircraft from the ground. It claimed that the Nigerian government paid ₦20 million to a kidnapping gang to retrieve a truck-mounted 12.7 calibre antiaircraft gun. The exchange took place in the Katsina section of the Rugu forest, which also has parts in Kaduna and Zamfara.
The weapon, WSJ reported, “posed a threat to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been planning to fly to his hometown about 80 miles away, and the government needed to buy it back”.
NAF, however, described the report as “totally false”.
Terror groups have attacked Nigeria’s military bases many times. Last year, the Nigeria Security Tracker documented at least three attacks on bases in Niger, one in Kaduna and another in Katsina. In one attack on a military camp in Allawa, Niger state, in Feb. 2022, the terrorists went away with two military vehicles and weapons.
Boko Haram, a violent extremist group in northeastern Nigeria, in April 2021 also claimed to have shot down a NAF Alpha Jet in the Sambisa forest area of Borno state. The Nigerian Army found the wreckage a year later.
The improved military capacity of terror gangs in the Northwest and North-central has been credited partly to increased collaboration between the armed groups in those regions and insurgents from the North East who train them in using anti-aircraft guns and other sophisticated weapons.
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