As soon as they arrived back from Saudi Arabia, where they had taken part in the recently finished Hajj exercise, security agents detained an undetermined number of suspected terrorists, their wives, and informants, PREMIUM TIMES exclusively learned.
The people detained were residents of the Zamfara State communities of Tsafe, Zurmi, Bungudu, and Shinkafi.
The accused terrorists were detained last week at the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport in Sokoto. They traveled to Saudi Arabia with other pilgrims from the state.
Intentional pilgrims from Zamfara frequently fly into the airport at Sokoto to reach Saudi Arabia.
Although security agency spokespeople in Zamfara State claim to be unaware of the arrest, many individuals, including a senior member of the Hajj committee, confirmed the information to PREMIUM TIMES.
The spokesperson for the Zamfara Pilgrims Welfare Board, Mansur Shafi’i, did not return calls to his mobile number or a message regarding the arrest that was forwarded to him.
There was an official communication between security agencies participating in the operation and officials of the state’s Hajj committee, according to a member of the Zamfara State Hajj committee who asked to remain anonymous since he was not authorized to speak to the press about the situation.
“When the first flight arrived, we were instructed to postpone the pilgrims’ deplaning. Following that, we were instructed to escort the passengers to an airport hallway where we could see both uniformed and plain-clothed security personnel. Our contact at the airport requested that we leave so that the security personnel could perform their duties, the man said.
He claimed that the pilgrims were required to sit on plastic chairs while they underwent a second round of screening by the security personnel.
Those who had been cleared were asked to go ahead, and the suspected were requested to stay in the hallway.
When it happened again when the second flight arrived, he stated, “I didn’t ask any questions at first, but when it was repeated, I made some contacts, and I was informed that the security was taking away suspected bandits, their wives, and informants for questioning.”
In a series of WhatsApp voice messages, a second source who works for the pilgrims’ welfare organization claimed that the suspects were being watched by security personnel.
‘I can’t call you right now. But the arrest is real. We were informed that the intended pilgrims from Zamfara, Katsina, and Sokoto were under intense security monitoring from Nigeria to this country (Saudi Arabia). I am aware that there have been arrests at the airport, but I am unable to provide further information at this time because I am not present.
He added another group of suspects were found among the pilgrims from Tsafe in another voice note communication.
Another witness at the airport, a traveler who requested anonymity for security reasons, claimed to have witnessed the arrest of some individuals.
“As soon as the final flight touched down on Friday, a large contingent of security personnel arrived and began requesting pilgrims’ identification. Many of the folks we were with were taken to a van after we disembarked the plane. We were instructed to go ahead and grab our things. But the people who were seized weren’t even let to keep their handbags, she claimed.
We issued a warning.
When they heard the rumor that known banditry kingpin Bello Turji would be traveling to Saudi Arabia for his pilgrimage, a group of respected “personalities” in the local government, according to a community leader in the Shinkafi region who preferred to remain anonymous, sounded the alarm.
“We approached the police as well as the brigade commander in Gusau, and they both assured us that they would handle the problem. I’m personally pleased with this development since, if anything, it shows that the security officers are committed to dealing with this issue, the man remarked.
The community leader claimed that they later discovered Mr. Turji didn’t make the trek, but “several of his boys” and informants did.
When approached, Yazid Abubakar, the state’s police spokesperson, declined to provide more details.
“I believe you should speak to the Brigade since you stated that it is a mutual problem. Please get in touch with our officers who are part of the joint task force because they don’t report to us since they have their own leader, Mr. Abubakar stated.
Ibrahim Yahaya, the 1 Brigade Nigerian Army’s spokesperson, concurred that he was not aware of any such actions.
“If you claimed it was in the airport in Sokoto, then it’s not one of our cops. Soldiers in Sokoto are capable of doing that. I’m not sure what you’re saying, to be quite honest with you,” he admitted.
Mr. Yahaya declined to comment because he was not aware of the arrests when it was pointed out that the pilgrims were from Zamfara and were only in Sokoto because the state does not have an airport.
Like other states in the North-West subregion, Zamfara has experienced terrorism for more than ten years, involving kidnapping for ransom, banditry, livestock rustling, and other crimes.