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HomeIn-DepthAnsaru Terror Group Responsible For Owo Church Massacre: Security Experts

Ansaru Terror Group Responsible For Owo Church Massacre: Security Experts

By Luka Binniyat  and Segun Onibiyo

(Abuja) Mounting evidence and expert testimony points to the terrorist group Ansaru as responsible for the Owo church massacre on June 5, 2022, TruthNigeria has learned. More concerning is that the stealthy and deadly jihadist sect is rapidly emerging in several Nigerian states.

Ansaru has been operating in Northcentral states, including Kogi, Nasarawa, and Niger, since 2012, according to security expert and retired police officer, Femi Iseilaye in an exclusive interview. The leader of Ansaru, Khaled Albarnawi was arrested in  Kogi State 2016, indicating that the state is a hub for the terrorist group, Iseilaye said. 

Iseilaye explained that the Nigerian Defense Headquarters made a significant breakthrough on August 9, 2022, when it arrested six members of the terror gang that attacked the church. The arrested individuals were all of the same ethnicity (Igbirras) and religion and hailed from Kogi State, a stronghold of Ansaru, according to Iseilaye.

“Ansaru, which is a breakaway faction of Boko Haram since 2012, has been seriously recruiting from Muslim tribes in the Middle Belt (North Central), and from there, they launch attacks in Edo, Ondo, and Osun states in southern Nigeria,” Iseilaye added.

Isah Yusuf, one of the leaders of Ansaru arrested by the military, confessed to launching multiple attacks on banks and police stations in Owo and Ikare counties of Ondo State between 2015 and 2018.

‘My name is Isah Yusuf; I am 34 years old and married, and I am an Igbirra by tribe. I am a member of Ansaru, and I have participated in several operations since 2015. The attack on Ikare Police Station and Owo Police Station was carried out by me,’ Yusuf said in a viral video.

A former Commissioner with the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, David Onyilokwu, added his support to the view that Ansaru was the agency of the Owo attack.

“The proximity of Kogi to southern Nigeria makes it very possible for Ansaru to penetrate Edo, Ondo, and Osun. Kogi has boundaries with Edo, Ondo, and Osun; you could follow through the winding mountains and forests, and you can stroll from Okene in Kogi state into Ukpila in Edo State,” Onyilokwu said.

“Furthermore, the claim by the Federal Government that ISWAP was responsible for the Owo massacre was unfounded, as ISWAP was far away in the NorthEast and was battling Boko Haram and the Nigerian military; the only logical conclusion is Ansaru, which is very pronounced in Kogi, Nasarawa, and Niger, he said.

As Christians worldwide commemorated the second anniversary of the devastating Owo Church massacre, TruthNigeria has collected new clues about the shadowy perpetrators of the horrific attack that claimed the lives of dozens of worshippers on Pentecost Sunday.

ISWAP Did Not Claim Credit for the Attack

Confession video from terrorists about Owo.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, was attacked by gunmen disguised as congregants, leaving 40 dead and 100 wounded. While the Federal Government attributed the attack to Islam in West Africa Province (ISWAP), Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (llate) and others raised questions about the perpetrators’ identities.

Akeredolu argued that ISWAP typically claims responsibility for its attacks, and the lack of ownership suggested another group might be responsible.  “ISWAP is known to take responsibility for its attacks and has always owned up to any attack perpetrated by its members,”  the governor said. Meanwhile, legislator Olayemi Adeyemi from Owo alleged that Fulani terrorists were behind the attack.

The Nigerian Defense Headquarters later announced the arrest of six suspects linked to ISWAP, including Idris Abdulmalik Omeiza, Momoh Otohu Abubakar, and Aliyu Yusuf Itopa. However, the true identities and motives of the perpetrators remained a subject of debate, with some attributing the attack to ISWAP and others to Fulani terrorists.

How Ansaru Differs From Boko Haram, ISWAP

In January 2012, the Jama’at Ansar al-Muslimin fi Bilad al-Sudan (Ansaru) was formed due to ideological differences between Albarnawi and Abubakar Shekau.

“While Boko Haram’s primary goal remains seeking revenge against the Nigerian government for killing Mohammed Yusuf, Ansaru’s objectives are rooted in restoring the lost dignity of the Sokoto Caliphate, a historical Islamic empire that once spanned across northern Cameroon, Nigeria, and southern Chad,” according to Idah.

“The group aims to exterminate any Western influence in Nigeria or the areas where it operates. It intends to achieve its aims by kidnapping foreigners, recruiting locals in particular regions where it is embedded, and killing Christians or kidnapping them for ransom,” Idah told TruthNigeria.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based in Algeria, helped fund Ansaru and encouraged the group leaders to concentrate more on kidnapping Westerners, such as Americans, French, Germans, and British, in Nigeria for ransom or cash.

Ansaru Spreading Southwards

Ansaru Map made for Truth Nigeria by Segun Onibiyo and Jerry Makeri.
Ansaru Map made for Truth Nigeria by Segun Onibiyo and Jerry Makeri.

While Boko Haram and ISWAP are embedded in the NorthEast and Northwest, Ansaru has been able to recruit numerous followers from Middle Belt region or the North Central states, according to Idah.

“Ansaru is rapidly moving towards the South of Nigeria since it has gained footholds in Niger, Kogi and Nasarawa,” Iseilaye said.

“The attacks in Ondo, Edo and parts of East are often  attributed to Fulani Ethnic Militia, but if one digs deep, they will understand that Ansaru is behind many if the attacks,” Iseilaye added.

“The Igbirras in Kogi are the distant cousins of Igarras in Edo.  Besides, many Igbirras are farm workers in Ondo, where they can recruit and radicalize some of them, and that is what Ansaru is doing,” Iseilaye said.

The security group Nextier SPD has confirmed that jihadists groups have been steadily

infiltrating the southern states since the suicide death of Boko Haram commander Abubakar Shekau in 2021 due to the availability of ungoverned forest spaces, easy access to weapons and deployment of flawed military strategy.

Segun Onibiyo and Luka Binniyat are conflict reporters in Northern Nigeria investigating for TruthNigeria

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