Hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists have fled a forest enclave in northeast Nigeria, escaping air strikes by the military and floods from torrential rains to seek shelter on Niger’s side of Lake Chad, sources told AFP.
Northeast Nigeria is facing a 13-year armed insurgency by jihadist groups that has killed more than 40,000 people and forced about 2 million from their homes.
The violence has spilled into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, with the jihadists maintaining camps in the vast Lake Chad region straddling the four countries.
A Nigerian security source said Boko Haram militants have been leaving the Sambisa forest since last month because of sustained bombing of their hideouts.
Nigeria has also recorded a more intensive rainy season, which usually runs from May through September, and floods have hit almost every part of the country.
“The exodus of the Boko Haram terrorists has increased in recent days as the bombardments have intensified, coupled with the floodings that have submerged many of their camps,” said the security source in the region who asked not to be identified.
On Monday, a convoy of more than 50 trucks carrying Boko Haram fighters and their families passed through villages on a route linking Sambisa with Lake Chad, several residents in the region said.
The fighters are believed to be loyal to Bakura Buduma, a Boko Haram factional leader, the sources said.
“The Boko Haram convoy is definitely heading to the islands on Lake Chad in the Bosso area of Niger where the group has camps,” said a fisherman named Kallah Sani who said he was familiar with Boko Haram movements in the region.
Niger authorities could not immediately confirm the movement.