Boko Haram militants film murder of 5 aid workers helping to fight Covid-19 in Nigeria
By Danielle Paquette and Ismail Alfa
Five men vanished in June while delivering food, water and medical supplies to remote pockets of northeastern Nigeria, where the coronavirus pandemic collided with a decade-long conflict.
They resurfaced Wednesday in a gruesome video, which showed the final moments of their lives.
Suspected Boko Haram militants captured the men - all Nigerians who worked for international aid groups and the government - in a bid for ransom money, authorities say, and then executed them on camera.
"This is a message to the infidels who are using you to cheat and turn our people into unbelievers," an unidentified voice said in Hausa, according to footage published by local media outlets.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's office condemned the violence in a statement and extended his condolences to the victims' families.
"He assures them that his government will continue to do all it can to ensure that every remaining vestige of Boko Haram is wiped out completely from northeastern Nigeria," the president's spokesman, Garba Shehu, said in the statement, "and that the perpetrators of this atrocity face the law."
But some residents of Borno state - the stronghold of Boko Haram and an offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa - expressed frustration over the government's failure to oust the extremist groups, which have killed more than 30,000 people since 2009.
The latest slaughter, they said, comes as the need for help is especially acute. Regular attacks haven't slowed down - militants killed 81 people on a single afternoon last month - and the coronavirus adds another deadly threat.
"No one will want to go to where he or she will be made a target for abduction and killing," said Allen Manasseh, a government worker in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. "It will affect the humanitarian situation in ways that you cannot imagine."
By Wednesday, Africa's most populous country had counted 37,801 cases and 805 deaths. Doctors in the biggest city, Lagos, have gone on strike, citing a lack of protective equipment, and those in rural communities have also reported dire shortages.
Travel is hazardous in Borno, residents say, because extremist groups are known to block roads and ambush drivers.
"Where is the government's motivation for any humanitarian worker to want to work in hard-to-reach areas?" said Sani Mamman, a 37-year-old civil servant in Maiduguri. "No one is going to guarantee the safety of those in the danger zone."
Kidnapping is a common menace in the northeast, he added. Extremists are known to force people into their ranks and see global nonprofit workers as potential paydays.
Those who take the most dangerous assignments are often from the communities they serve, said Abubakar Sadiq Kurbe, a political scientist in Maiduguri.
"They are angels," he said. "Even the places where the government can't access, they go."
The militants abducted the men this summer as they traveled on the main road to Maiduguri from the northern town of Mondongo - the same stretch of highway where four other aid workers were killed last December.
They worked for the State Emergency Management Agency and four nonprofits, including the France-based Action Against Hunger and the New York-based International Rescue Committee.
One was Luka Filibus from northern Nigeria. His job title: Child protection assistant.
"Luka himself was forced to flee his home and was still compelled to alleviate the suffering of children," the International Rescue Committee said in a statement. "He dedicated his life to protecting children and to help lessen their trauma in the face of crisis."
Another was Abdulrahman Bulama, who worked for the Borno state relief agency.
He was about to get married, his friends told The Washington Post.
Junaid Jubril Maiva, a journalist, posted about his last encounter with Bulama on Facebook.
"We joked, laughed and talked about his marriage," Maiva wrote. "Little did we know that we were not going to see him again."
In the video, Bulama, Filibus and their aid colleagues are kneeling. Red blindfolds cover their eyes.
Five captors stand behind them in military fatigues. Scarves obscure their faces.
The militants aim. They shoot.