449 kidnappers arrested by Nigerian Army in seven weeks

Nigeria’s special joint military force has arrested over 400 suspected kidnappers in four oil-producing states in the Niger Delta in under seven weeks, an army spokesman said on Sunday. “From the start of our operation on September 28, 2010 to date, a total of 449 suspected kidnappers were arrested in different locations in Abia, Akwa Ibom, Imo and Rivers States,” Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa said in Aba. The Joint Task Force (JTF) has transferred 95 suspects to the police and state security service agents for further investigation and possible prosecution, he said. The JTF still has 183 suspects in custody while 171 others who were cleared after questioning have been freed, he said.

He said the special force — set to fight kidnapping, attacks on oil workers and installations in the oil-rich Niger Delta region — had managed to restore law and order to Aba city, the southeast region’s main commercial city, after months of violence, kidnappings and other crimes. Banks, finance houses, shops and schools were mostly closed at the height of the violence when armed gunmen, kidnappers, militants and other criminals laid siege to the city and the surrounding area. The JTF recovered some 25 vehicles, assorted arms and ammunition from the arrested suspects, and destroyed many of their local arms manufacturing factories, said Musa, who also speaks for the force in the region. A joint army and police operation on October 1 freed 15 pupils who were kidnapped from their bus four days earlier on the outskirts of Aba, located in Abia State. “Within the first one month of our operation in Abia, we rescued 15 pupils of Aba international school… four female national youth corps members… and many other men and women kidnapped,” Musa said. The Nigerian military on Saturday warned armed gangs in the region that militants’ camps would no longer be tolerated, with many of them already located and destroyed in recent weeks.Kidnappings have turned into big business in the Niger Delta and southeast as abductors often demand ransoms from their victims or their families.