by journalist Masara Kim
Nigerian officials say recent attacks on Christian communities in the country's central region are not the work of local Fulani herdsmen alone.
"Our intelligence shows that unknown people recently entered Plateau on motorcycles, masking their faces," Secretary to the Government of Plateau State Danladi Atu told our correspondent.
"Plateau is under siege. When you see people coming on motorbikes, it means it has gone beyond the Fulani," Atu said.
On 19 May an "unintended" leaked internal memo from the office of the Nigerian Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba, warned of planned attacks by Boko Haram terrorists in "major cities", particularly Jos, Plateau State, and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.
Three days after the alert, over 100 Christians were killed in four council wards of Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of Benue State. Less than 24 hours later, over 16 people, including a Christian police operative, were killed in separate attacks near Jos. Locals say the attackers came on motorbikes with AK-47 rifles and "explosives".
"We heard gun blasts like never before. It was like a movie. As we were running, flying objects were bursting into flames behind us," said church elder Davou Tok after an attack on Darigi hamlet
of Kwi village in Plateau State's Riyom area on 23 May that left a police operative dead. Tok was among two civilians injured in the attack.
Same gang responsible?
Before the Darigi attack, eight people including five members of a family were killed in a hamlet less than 1,000 metres from Darigi. The attack started at about 10pm, an hour after eight were killed in Dong village near a military barracks some 10km from Kwi. Atu believes the same gang riding motorbikes carried out the Kwi and Dong attacks.
"There is no way someone will leave Riyom and attack Bassa (Local Government Area bordering Dong village to the west) or vice versa on foot. And in most cases, the routes they use are not the formal routes," he said.
In the northeast, Boko Haram terrorists use motorbikes for jihad, and usually hide in forests or where there is natural cover. In Plateau where there are fewer forests, the "strange masked bikers" suspected to be jihadists are hiding in mountains, with some in "congested" markets, Atu said.
There is no documented evidence of Boko Haram involvement in the recent attacks in the state, but intelligence sources say a purported letter from Boko Haram to two local organisations last week demanded N100 million ($208,333) from each, or they would risk attacks.
"The letter was sent to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in Kuru, and Grand Cereals and Oil Meals Ltd at the same time that the IGP issued a warning about planned attacks by Boko Haram. The group demanded that the money be paid to a Zenith Bank account, which we are investigating. They wanted Zenith Bank to immediately cash the money once credited and deliver it to them at a specified location," a top intelligence source said.
Boko Haram and Fulani in “synergy”
Solomon Dalyop, a local human rights lawyer, believes Boko Haram is now in synergy with herdsmen to carry out attacks in the state.
"Just after the IGP gave an alert that Boko Haram was planning to carry out attacks in Plateau State, and after we received rumours of Boko Haram terrorists arriving in Plateau on motorbikes to carry out attacks, armed terrorists on motorbikes killed over 16 people including a policeman in communities where Fulani herdsmen are claiming to have carried out reprisals. It therefore means that either these Fulani people are Boko Haram or they are in synergy," Solomon told our correspondent.
The Epoch Times newspaper has also reported the likelihood of Boko Haram teaming up with herdsmen to carry out armed attacks in northern Nigeria.
Plateau State Police Commissioner Edward Egbuka on 28 May confirmed the arrest of two suspects, including one with a bullet injury, after an operative was killed in a gun exchange during the invasion of Kwi village. The suspects are identified as Fulani natives, and are not yet confirmed to have links with Boko Haram.