Boko Haram jihadists abducted around 50 loggers in northeastern Nigerian close to the border with Cameroon, civilian militia and residents told AFP Thursday.
The hostages who were mostly from a camp for people displaced by jihadist violence were on Saturday rounded up by fighters loyal to factional leader Abubakar Shekau while collecting wood.
“The men were rounded up and taken away by Boko Haram insurgents and nothing has been heard from them,” militia leader Umar Kachalla said.
“Two of the loggers escaped and returned home and broke the news.
“We don’t have a precise number of those taken but usually the loggers move in a group of more than 50 men,” Kachalla said.
The abduction took place at Bulakesa village, 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the town of Gamboru in Borno state.
The Boko Haram Islamist uprising in the region has claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than two million since 2009 in Nigeria alone.
In 2014, in a case that shocked the world, Boko Haram gunmen seized 276 girls aged 12 to 17 from a secondary school in the remote town of Chibok, also in Borno state.
The loggers taken in the latest incident had been encouraged to venture deep into the bush to collect firewood by a recent military operation that pushed the jihadists out of the area, another militia Shehu Mada said.
Last month troops dislodged the militants from the nearby town of Wulgo and surrounding areas following repeated attacks on loggers.
“The general assumption was that the insurgents had left the area only to suddenly appear and encircle the loggers,” Mada said.
“We believe the number of the those abducted exceeds 50,” said Gamboru resident Babagana Musa.
The story was slow to emerge due to limited communications with Gamboru residents.
The area has for several years been without telecom facilities following the destruction of telecom masts in Boko Haram attacks, forcing residents to rely on Cameroon mobile phone networks.
Gamboru loggers have suffered repeated Boko Haram attacks and abductions especially around Wulgo forest which was a known Boko Haram hideout.
In April Boko Haram militants gunned down 18 loggers on the edge of the forest, close to Gamboru.
Boko Haram has increasingly targeted loggers and farmers, accusing them of spying and passing information to the military and the local militia fighting them.
On Monday the jihadists killed nine farmers and abducted 12 others when they opened fire as they worked on their fields outside Mammanti village, near the regional capital Maiduguri.
In August 2014 the group seized Gamboru, a trading hub, along with the neighbouring town of Ngala.
Nigerian troops retook both towns in September 2015 with the help of Chadian forces following offensives lasting months.
Despite the recapture of the area which saw residents moving back, Boko Haram fighters continue to launch sporadic attacks, ambushing troops and vehicles, as well as attacking and abducting farmers.
News of the latest attack near Gamboru came few days after a Boko Haram splinter group killed at least 44 soldiers in attacks on three military bases in Metele, a remote village near the border with Niger.
On Thursday, seven employees of a French mineral and water drilling firm and a local official were also killed when gunmen attacked their site in southeastern Niger.
The Nigerian Senate said on Thursday it would visit government troops fighting the insurgents in the volatile region.
Senate president Bukola Saraki said on his Twitter account the visit was aimed at boosting the morale of troops on the frontline.