Nigeria: Video Released on Kebbi Victims Links Kidnapping to Al Qaeda [Updated]

In May, two engineers, one British and one Italian, were kidnapped in Kebbi, a city in Northwestern Nigeria near the borders with Benin and Niger (map). Commentators speculated about the kidnappers – was it Boko Haram, the Muslim militant sect that operates primarily in the country’s Northeast? Was it Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has kidnapped Westerners in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and North Africa, but never before in Nigeria? Or was it a local criminal group? The latter was my own suspicion at the time, but for a time there was practically no information about the incident.

That has changed. A newly released video links the kidnapping to Al Qaeda:

The roughly one-minute-long video sent to AFP in Abidjan is the first proof of life of the engineers since they were kidnapped from their apartment in Nigeria’s northwestern Kebbi state on the border with Niger.

It was not clear when the film was made and this was impossible to verify independently. The video shows the hostages blindfolded and on their knees. Three men holding weapons stand behind them, their faces hidden by turbans.

The hostages give their names, which AFP has chosen not to make public, and each deliver a statement urging their governments to meet the demands of the kidnappers, whom they say are from Al-Qaeda.

However, no details of the abductors or their demands are given.

AFP’s reporters appear confident that the men in the video are indeed the hostages, but AFP (and the BBC) note that the British and Italian governments are working to verify the identity of the kidnappers. In other words, people involved with the case are not completely convinced that the kidnappers are indeed Al Qaeda. The kidnappers have apparently not contacted authorities or made specific demands.

Several possibilities occur to me:

  1. Al Qaeda (presumably as AQIM) indeed kidnapped the men. This would be a big deal – the first known incursion of AQIM into Nigerian territory would attract major attention and would compound the Nigerian state’s security headaches. With the Boko Haram uprising in the Northeast, increasing insecurity in the Northwest border areas could scare investors as well as the local population. Pressure on the Federal Government to beef up security would increase accordingly.
  2. A local group kidnapped the men and then sold or transferred them to AQIM. This would still point to AQIM involvement in Northern Nigeria, but would not signal a direct AQIM presence in Nigerian territory as such. The kidnappers could be opportunists.
  3. The kidnappers are posing as AQIM, perhaps in order to increase the eventual ransom payment. If the claims of AQIM involvement turned out to be false, Nigeria would breathe a sigh of relief. On the other hand, it’s hard to put the genie – even just of rumors – back in the bottle. Going forward, commentators are going to be speculating much more an AQIM presence in Nigeria.

Have I missed something? What do you think the implications are?

As we wait for more information on this, I hope above all that the two men are safe and that they will be released soon. I will update if there is anything new.

[Update]: In the comments, Andrew Lebovich makes a great point about how the video was released:

I think what’s telling about the claim is that it did not come from al-Andalus. Given the way AQIM produces videos (and the way they have done so in the past) with hostages, it seems unlikely that they would stake a claim as “al-Qaeda” without any of the official trappings. In the absence of further information or confirmation, of course, we can’t judge. But my hunch is that this is your third option, people posing in order to up an eventual ransom demand.

Al-Andalus is, for those who don’t know, the media house of AQIM. Reinforcing Andrew’s point – and, on another note, perhaps also indicating that the hostages are being held outside of Nigeria – is the fact that the video was sent to the AFP in Cote d’Ivoire rather than to, say, a jihadi website or to BBC Hausa or to another Nigerian outlet. But as Andrew also says, we will need more information before we can be sure of anything.

 

About these ads

10 thoughts on “Nigeria: Video Released on Kebbi Victims Links Kidnapping to Al Qaeda [Updated]

  1. Alex-

    Nice summary, though I think what’s telling about the claim is that it did not come from al-Andalus. Given the way AQIM produces videos (and the way they have done so in the past) with hostages, it seems unlikely that they would stake a claim as “al-Qaeda” without any of the official trappings.

    In the absence of further information or confirmation, of course, we can’t judge. But my hunch is that this is your third option, people posing in order to up an eventual ransom demand. But as you pointed out, if this does turn out to be AQIM or AQIM-linked, it would be a worrisome development. Especially amidst the growing speculation about linkages between Boko Haram and AQIM.

  2. Even if AQIM was not behind this event. I have no doubts that AQIM or other affiliated organisations are active in Northern Nigeria.

    There are at least 70 million muslims in Nigeria and there is a very old tradition of “Jihadism” in Northern Nigeria (Usman Dan Fodio operated there). So there will always be an attraction for such sects.

    Northern Nigeria is in a state of flux and the people who have the most cause to be worried are not Southern politicians like Jonathan, but the Northern elite. As a Nigerian, I see events like this and movements like Boko Haram as primarily being a challenge to the established order in Northern Nigeria, not the Nigerian state.

  3. While I lean towards option 3, there is something distinctly unusual about this case. An additional, albeit unlikely, hypothesis is that the captives are somehow implicated in this themselves. Arranging to get yourself kidnapped and then splitting the ransom money used to be an option in Yemen, why not Nigeria?

    What is most unusual about this case is the lack of details surrounding it. No names (until now, with the Italian), no background other than nationality, no press campaigns by family and friends at home to keep them in the limelight – usually you would expect the local paper to run a story on it in the UK. On the kidnappers side too there is silence – one would have thought if you are seeking to establish political gains from the kidnapping, or financial ones, it pays to have an active campaign of information to increase pressure to negotiate a settlement.

    • Thanks for stopping by Ruraigh. Hadn’t thought of the self-kidnapping possibility. I am currently leaning toward option 3 also. The case is definitely unusual though. For a while people were afraid the lack of publicity meant that the victims had been killed. So at the very least we now know they’re alive.

      • Ruraigh – as David Rohde describes in his book about being kidnapped by the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, consultants often caution against revealing kidnapping details so as not to create media pressure to pay a higher ransom. So there might be a simpler explanation at work for why details haven’t been released about these victims.

      • I hope I don’t end up sounding like a conspiracy theorist after all of this. There could also be an element of mistaken identity, or at least nationality. Reports indicate that another engineer in the Kebbi case escaped and was German. It is pretty widely evidenced that the German and Italian governments pay ransoms quite freely, making it potentially a quick and easy transaction for whoever kidnapped them. If you happen to take a Brit, who won’t get any ransom paid by his government, you’ve got some baggage that will be more difficult to deal with

        Priffe’s mention of Edwin Dyer is relevant here too because, if you’re AQIM and you need to make an example of a) how serious you are about the fact that your demands should be me, b) make sure you get a ransom for all the captives you release and c) avoid a military raid, as distasteful as it is to say it, you get rid of the least useful captive, in this case Dyer.

        Regarding timing and publication – I agree with both Andrew and Priffe’s comments, but suggest that there are also additional factors to be considered. While security contractors will no doubt want to keep the profile down, the kidnappers *should* want to do the reverse. Equally, wrt timing of contact, might I suggest that there is a potential difference between financially motivated and politically motivated kidnappings? Somali pirates are on the sat phone to begin negotiations before they have dropped anchor (you may argue the hijacking is not the same). It could also be that the video is the first public contact the kidnappers have made to increase pressure, but negotiations have in fact been going on in private for a while. My assumption in this case is that the company doesnt provide K&R insurance – otherwise this would be over quite quickly should it be a financially motivated kidnapping. Political kidnappings have a different motivation, so time and results isn’t necessarily as important – Hezbollah being a good example of a group who commits very political acts with a lot of patience. Witness too what happened in Iraq with kidnapped people being moved through a network, initially as a cash making opportunity and then onto a political piece as groups exchange “assets”. If you’ve mistakenly kidnapped someone who you cant get ransom from easily (the Brit) the group could well have cut its losses and followed this route as you suggest for Option 2.

        I still lean towards option 3, but it is an interesting case which I look forward to following more your the blog. I will hopefully speculate less wildly then.

  4. Edwin Dyer’s family were told to lay low and they were bitter afterwards. It was his brother who was interviewed, as I recall it.
    It is normal for kidnappers to let some time pass before they go out with their demands.

  5. Why on earth has this not been made public? The minute something like this happens to a rich man and his wife (5th Sept) its world news, yet nothing has been mentioned about these two poor men and their family go on suffering in silence!

  6. Pingback: Quick Thoughts on the Failed Hostage Rescue in Nigeria | Sahel Blog

  7. Pingback: Quick Thoughts on the Failed Hostage Rescue in Nigeria « al-Wasat – الوسط

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s