An unspecified number of bandits terrorizing Zamfara State were arrested alongside their wives and informant while returning from 2023 Hajj exercise.
The terrorists, according to PREMIUM TIMES, were arrested at Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto, the airport frequently used by pilgrims from Zamfara.
The arrested bandits who operate within Tsafe, Zurmi, Bangudu and Shinkafi areas of Zamfara State were arrested by joint security operatives who conducted a search on them immediately after the first flight of the state pilgrims landed on Friday.
A top source from Zamfara state Hajj Committee who craved for anonymity told the medium that the state’s pilgrims welfare board is aware of the situation and there was an official communication between the duo.
“When the first flight came, we were asked to delay the pilgrims from coming down the plane. After that, we were asked to take them to a hall in the airport where we saw security agents, including those in uniform and in plain clothing. Our airport contact person asked us to withdraw and allow the security guys to do their work,” he said.
Narrating what transpired when the pilgrims were taken to the hall, he said they were asked to sit on plastic chairs while they were screened again by the security agents, adding that the suspects were asked to remain in the hall, while those cleared were asked to proceed.
“Initially, I didn’t ask any questions, but when it was repeated when the second flight came, I made some contacts, and I was informed that the security was taking away suspected bandits, their wives and informants for questioning,” he said.
Corroborating what a member of the Hajj committee said, another staffer of the pilgrims’ welfare board, told the medium in a series of WhatsApp voice notes that the suspects were placed under surveillance by security agents.
“I can’t call you now… But it’s true (the arrest). We were informed that the Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto intending pilgrims were placed on serious security surveillance from Nigeria to here (Saudi Arabia). I know that arrests have been made at the airport, but I can’t give you details now since I’m not around too,” he said in one of the WhatsApp voice notes.
In another voice note message, he said another set of suspects was arrested among pilgrims from Tsafe.
A female pilgrim who also sought for anonymity for security reasons, said he saw when some suspects were arrested.
“Immediately the last flight landed on Friday, security agents in number came and started asking for pilgrim’s documents. When we came off the plane, they took many people we were together with and took them to a vehicle. We were asked to proceed and take our handbags. But those taken were not even allowed to take their handbags,” she said.
COMMUNITY LEADERS RAISED ALARM BEFORE EXERCISE
Community leaders in Shinkafi have earlier before the commencement of Hajj exercise notified relevant security agencies that bandit kingpin, Bello Turji would go to Hajj but later on he declined.
“We went to both the police and the brigade commander in Gusau, and they promised that they would take care of the situation. I’m personally happy with this development because, if anything, it means the security agents are serious about tackling this situation,” he said.
The community leader who asked not be named said they later learnt that Turji didn’t go, but “several of his boys” and informants went to perform their pilgrimage.
Spokespersons of security agencies in Zamfara State contacted by the Premium Times are feigning ignorance of the arrest.
Also spokeswoman for the Zamfara State Pilgrims Welfare Board, Mansur Shafi’i, didn’t answer calls made to his mobile number, neither did he respond to a message sent to him about the arrest.
The police spokesperson in the state, Yazid Abubakar, didn’t give further information when contacted but said “since you said it’s a joint issue, I think you should talk to the brigade. Our officers attached to the joint task force don’t report to us because they have their own leader, so please reach out to them.”
The spokesperson for 1 Brigade Nigerian Army, Ibrahim Yahaya, also said he was unaware of such operations.
“If you said it’s in Sokoto airport, then it’s not our officers. They are soldiers in Sokoto that can do that. To be honest with you, I’m not aware of what you’re saying,” he said.