MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Extremists have abducted 91 more people, including toddlers as young as 3, in weekend attacks on villages in Nigeria, witnesses said Tuesday, providing fresh evidence of the military's failure to curb an Islamic uprising and the government's inability to provide security.
The kidnappings come less than three months after more than 200 schoolgirls were taken in a mass abduction that embarrassed Nigeria's government and military because of their slow response. Those girls are still being held captive.
The most recent victims included 60 girls and women, some of whom were married, and 31 boys, witnesses said.
A local official confirmed the abductions, but security forces denied them.
There was no way to safely and independently confirm the report from Kummabza, 150 kilometers (95 miles) from Maiduguri, capital of Borno state and headquarters of a military state of emergency that has failed to curtail near-daily attacks by Boko Haram fighters.
Vigilante leader Aji Khalil said Tuesday the abductions took place Saturday in an attack that killed four villagers. Khalil lives in Maiduguri but gets reports daily from other vigilante groups that have had some success in repelling Boko Haram with primitive weapons.
A senior councilor from the village's Damboa local government told The Associated Press that abductions had occurred but spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to reporters. He said the reports came from elderly survivors of the attack who had walked some 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the relative safety of other villages.
An intelligence officer with Nigeria's Department of State Security also said there had been a mass abduction, but he said it occurred in Kummabza and three nearby villages between June 13 and 15, and that no one knows the actual number abducted. He also spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
There was no way to reconcile the confusion, which also surrounded the first mass abduction in mid-April.
Several prominent Nigerians questioned whether those abductions had taken place, including first lady Patience Jonathan, who claimed the reports were fabricated to discredit her husband's administration.
Last week, a presidential committee investigating the April kidnappings stressed that they did happen and clarified the number of students who have been kidnapped. It said there were 395 students at the school — 119 who escaped during the siege of the school and another 57 who escaped in the first couple of days of their abduction, leaving 219 unaccounted for.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith met earlier this month with one of the girls who escaped.
"Almost two months later, clearly she was still traumatized — you could hear it in her quivering voice and see it in her eyes. Yet she spoke mostly of her deep concern for her friends and classmates still in captivity and pleaded for their immediate rescue," he said in a statement issued Tuesday.
But Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, also quoted testimony to the House Foreign Relations Committee last week by another former U.S. ambassador, Robin Renee Sanders, who warned that "Nigeria is in the beginning of a long war. ... There is no easy fix."
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