ISWAP Behind Ondo Church Attack, Security Council Says

The National Security Council (NSC) has accused fighters of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) of launching the attack on the St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, which led to the death of dozens of people.

The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, disclosed this Thursday while briefing State House reporters after a meeting of the NSC presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

At least 40 worshippers were killed while scores of others were injured during last Sunday’s attack on the church.

Daily Trust reports this was the first time an attack of this magnitude in the South West was directly linked to terrorists in the last 13 years of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.

Activities of terrorist groups like Boko Haram and its splinters – ISWAP, Ansaru, Darus Salam, among others, were limited to North East, parts of North Central and North West.

Even though security operatives had in the last few years raised the alarm over the infiltration of terrorists into parts of the South West, this was the first time the terrorists succeeded in launching a large scale attack and yesterday’s revelation by the NSC confirming the development had prompted security experts to call for a new approach to end violent extremism.

Before the declaration by the federal government yesterday, different names such as ‘bandits’, ‘unknown gunmen’ and names alluding to ethnic profiling had been used in labelling the perpetrators of the Owo church attack, a development that led to a reprisal attack in Ondo State.

‘We’ve unravelled perpetrators’

While addressing the press yesterday, Interior Minister, Aregbesola said the government had been able to identify the perpetrators of the Owo attack, saying they were members of the ISWAP terrorist group.

The minister, who briefed alongside the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Alkali Baba Usman, said security agencies had been directed to go after the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

Aregbesola, who said the imprint of ISWAP had been found on the scene of the attack, added that the group was out to pitch Nigerians against one another and make it appear as a ethno-religious war.

He said there was no ethnic agenda in the attack, urging Nigerians to unite and defeat the terrorists.

The minister, who said the NSC, which was concerned about violence, however, commended the military and other security agencies for their efforts to eliminate bandits and terrorists in various parts of the country.

He said: “The National Security Council has just risen from its meeting today, which reviewed, very critically, all aspects of the security situation in the country and came up with conclusions, commending the efforts of the military and other security agencies in mitigating the insurgency, particularly in the North East, where the fundamentalists there have been weakened, degraded and equally in the North West, where the bandits are equally weakened, and the North Central, where we are engaged with pockets of bandits.

“The council is quite concerned about the violent attack in Owo, Ondo State, and has been able to locate the perpetrators of that horrendous attack. From all indications, we are zeroing in on ISWAP, the Islamic State West Africa. It is not an ethnoreligious thing, the animals in ISWAP wanting attention, recognition, are suspected to have launched that attack. We have directed all the agencies concerned to go after them and bring them to justice.”

He said the president directed them to assure Nigerians that his administration was committed to providing adequate security and ensuring the maintenance of law and order.

According to him, this was to ensure that “Nigerians will be able to go about their businesses, particularly farmers, who will want to go to their farms without any fear of attack or molestation.”

Contributing, the IGP said the perpetrators might have beaten intelligence but should not be attributed to the failure of intelligence as they had foiled several terrorists’ planned attacks.

ISWAP expansion has grievous implications – Kabiru Adamu

An Abuja-based Security Risk Management and Intelligent Specialist, Kabiru Adamu, said the implication of the expansion of ISWAP’s operations includes the evolvement of its attack methods such as IEDs, ambush, kidnap for ransom, mortar fires and complex attacks.

According to Adamu who is the Managing Director of Beacon Consulting Limited, ISWAP’s expansion of its area of operation is a trend that has been observed since early 2021.

“This expansion became more obvious following a string of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from January through to May 3022 in Bauchi, Kaduna, Kogi, Katsina and Taraba States that have been claimed by ISWAP.”

In addition, he said the group’s presence has been observed in Niger State adding that although there was no prior active intelligence indicating its presence in the South West, “We have always considered frontier states such as Ondo that are conterminous with places like Kogi, where the group has an active presence as susceptible to attacks.

“The group’s prime targets are security forces’ formations, security operatives, bars and restaurants and religious places of worship of those considered disbelievers, including Christians,” he said.

He called for anti-terrorism measures to reduce the risk of attacks by terrorist groups.

Bandits kill 32 in southern Kaduna as NAF helicopter fights terrorists

Bandits have killed 32 persons and razed several houses in three communities of Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State.

Our correspondents gathered that the attacks, which occurred on Sunday, claimed 29 lives in Dogon Noma, two in Unguwan Sarki and one in Unguwan Maikori, the story of the incidents only came to the fore on Wednesday.

A press statement by the National President of Adara Development Association (ADA), Awedi Maisamari, and the spokesman for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), had earlier alleged that the terrorists were aided by a helicopter to attack the communities.

However, the state government, while debunking the allegation yesterday, said an air force helicopter under Operation Whirl Punch was dispatched to the area after it scanned the vicinity and intercepted the bandits.

The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) had also described the claim as unfounded.

The Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, stated that the bandits had first attacked Dogon Noma and Unguwan Sarki where they killed 31 citizens before heading to Ungwan Maikori where they killed one person and burnt some houses.

He said that the helicopter had intercepted the bandits at Ungwan Maikori and engaged them as they retreated, before the arrival of ground troops to the general area.

Aruwan said that it was the arrival of the air asset that deterred the bandits from further attacks on the citizens in the village after the bandits had already killed one person and burnt several houses. 

“Since the attack on Sunday, security agencies and traditional leaders in the locations have been updating the government on the development. The story that a helicopter provided air support to the bandits against the locals is, therefore, an untrue account,” he said. 

Aruwan challenged those peddling the report of a helicopter aiding bandits in the killing of innocent citizens to present their accounts backed by incontrovertible facts to the state government.

He said several kidnapped victims, including an expatriate kidnapped at a mining site, were rescued after a fierce engagement with bandits.

On his part, IGP Baba while reacting to the alleged killing of civilians by a helicopter in Kaduna State, said the police could not identify any helicopter killing people.

He said: “As for the issue of helicopter attack, the allegations are there, the assertions are there. We have not been able to say there is any helicopter attack on innocent citizens like you have suggested. But most of the time, these assertions are made and up till now, we have not been able to see or we’ve not been able to identify any helicopter that is flying and killing people unnecessarily.

“But there are instances where our helicopters, security forces helicopters, that are flying, but we don’t have that allegation of innocent people being killed, except where in some instances in the past, where the military helicopters had, maybe in one way or the other, missed the target or misdirected target and so forth.

“But that issue has not been an issue of discussion in the security meeting. We are still looking into the allegation and we are still looking into the assertions. If there are any leads to follow, we will do that,” he said.

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