International aid agency Action Against Hunger (ACF) has confirmed that six aid workers had been kidnapped in northeast Nigeria, shortly after an armed group released a video purporting to show them.
The aid workers, abducted last week near the town of Damasak in northeast Nigeria, are “apparently in a good condition of health,” Paris-based ACF, which provides food aid to poor communities across the world, said in a statement on Thursday.
“These are humanitarian workers who chose to devote their lives to helping the most vulnerable communities in Nigeria,” the statement said, demanding their release.
The charity said last week that along with its staff member, three health workers and two drivers were missing after their convoy was attacked last Thursday near the border with Niger. It said one driver was killed in the incident.
No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction, but sources told the Reuters news agency it was carried out by hard line fighters. All six abductees are Nigerian, sources said.
Two main armed groups operate in the region: Boko Haram, which is aligned to al-Qaeda, and a Boko Haram splinter group known as Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Plea for help
The purported video was published by The Cable, a Nigerian news organisation, and showed a woman wearing a bright blue hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion, who identifies herself as “Grace”, sitting on the floor.
Five men sit around her while she speaks in English, some with their heads bowed. Behind them is a sheet with the logo of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
“We were caught by this army called the Calipha,” she said, before asking that the Nigerian government and Action Against Hunger secure their release. “We don’t know where we are.”
She added: “Some aid workers were caught and also asked to be released but because Nigeria did not do anything about it, they were killed. I am begging on behalf of all of us here, that please Nigerians should not allow such to happen to us.”
The hostages are believed to be held in an ISWAP enclave on the shores of Lake Chad, according to the AFP news agency.
Villagers told AFP the kidnapped aid workers were seen with their armed captors passing through the villages of Chamba and Gatafo on the day of their abduction.
Two female aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were murdered by ISWAP last year and an aid worker with the United Nation’s children’s agency UNICEF is being held by the group.
Since 2009, more than 27,000 people have been killed and some two million forced from their homes in the fight against the hardline fighters in Nigeria.