ISWAP releases video of 6 abducted aid workers begging for their lives

Six Nigerian NGO workers kidnapped in Borno state last week have appeared in a hostage video begging for their lives, identifying their captors as militants from the local ISIS affiliate, a group that has previously executed humanitarians.

In a three-minute video shared online on Thursday, a woman wearing a blue abaya and identifying herself as Grace begged her employer and the Nigerian government to help free her and the five men kneeling silently behind her.

Identifying herself as a Christian Nigerian who works for the aid organisation Action Against Hunger (ACF), she said she and her colleagues “were caught by this army called the Calipha.”

The video was released through the same channels as previous videos from the ISIS-linked Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

“I beg Action against Hunger, we have families some of us have children,” she said. “Please do something to release us.”

An Action Against Hunger spokesperson declined to say what the organisation’s policy was with regard to ransom payments.

She also implored her government for help. “We are Nigerians and we are also working for Nigerians. I’m begging the Nigerian government to please do something to see we were released.”

The six were kidnapped last Thursday, when a convoy of vehicles was attacked on the road to Damasak a northern town on the Niger border in Borno State.

Gunmen fired on the convoy, killing an ACF driver, and taking five Nigerian men and a woman hostage.

The kidnapped aid workers were seen with their armed captors on the day of their abduction passing through the villages of Chamba and Gatafo southwest of Damasak, villagers told Agence France-Presse news agency. They are now believed to be held in an ISWAP enclave on the shores of Lake Chad.

In a statement, ACF identified the captives as “one staff member, two drivers and three health workers”, though in the video the hostage Grace said they were all staff.

“Action Against Hunger strongly requests that our staff member and her companions be released,” the group said. “They are humanitarians and health workers and they chose to dedicate their lives to support the most vulnerable communities in Nigeria.”

A breakaway faction of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, ISWAP swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in 2016.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has carried out a bloody insurgency across northeastern Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. More than 27,000 people have been killed and two million displaced by the conflict, which has prompted a US military response.

The kidnapping raises concern about the targeting of humanitarian staff in an area where 7.1 million people need aid as a result of the insurgency.

“These acts of violence affect the very individuals, families, and communities that we support, and deprive vulnerable people of vital services,” said the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Edward Kallon.

ISWAP has repeatedly attacked military bases and previously targeted aid workers in northeast Nigeria.

Last October, ISWAP militants killed 24-year-old midwife Hauwa Mohammed Liman after her employer the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) refused to pay a ransom for her release. A month earlier, Boko Haram murdered another ICRC midwife, Saifura Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa.

Referring to the fate of the slain aid workers, Grace said: “Some ladies from the Red Cross were caught. They asked to be released, but because Nigeria didn’t do anything about it, they were killed.”

She continued, her voice breaking: “I’m begging on behalf of those here that please Nigeria should not allow such to happen to us.”

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