Photos posted by one Mamman Bashar Kanoma on Monday, show notorious bandit kingpin, Muhammad Bello, aka Turji, moving freely around Fakai community in Zamfara State few days before Nigerian Air Force bombed his base, killing 12 fighters, and relatives.
According to Premium Times report, NAF bombed the hideout during a naming ceremony on Saturday afternoon, September 17, 2022.
Locals told the publication that the terrorists, who were attending the naming ceremony of a child at Mr Turji’s house, were caught unawares by the air bombardment.
An Air Force source at the Forward Operation Base in neighbouring Katsina, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak with the media, also confirmed the raid.
The senior officer said the notorious kingpin’s whereabouts were still unknown as of Sunday morning.
A former councillor in the Fakai community, who sought anonymity for security reasons, said the terrorists were inside an uncompleted mosque when the soldiers struck.
“I left the community for some personal business in Shinkafi around 1:58 p.m but didn’t reach my destination when I started receiving calls that the community was under attack. My family thought it was bandits that were attacking but then they called to say it was the air force. I could hear the roaring of the jets,” the politician told PREMIUM TIMES in a phone interview.
He said those who were killed were militias (men and women) who were inside the mosque, adding that Turji was not in the town during the attack.
“If he (Mr Turji) is in the town, everyone knows because you’ll see his fighters with sophisticated weapons protecting his house. The naming was conducted in the morning while the normal women’s event was yet to start in the evening,” he said.
Another resident who also asked not to be named said he has evacuated his family members to the local government headquarters, Shinkafi.
“It was very deadly. I saw the bandits running while we were trying to hide outside the community. Everyone was confused but thanks to God that the jets didn’t stay for long, it would have affected some of us, innocent residents,” he said.
He added that as of Saturday night, no civilian casualties were recorded insisting that “only his (Mr Turji’s) people were killed.”
The source said so far, 12 of Mr Turji’s fighters and some women were killed in the raid.
A senior official at Air Force Forward Operation Base in Katsina, confirmed the offensive to the publication.
“Not only his (Mr Turji’s) camp. We’ve been launching attacks since last Wednesday,” the air force official said.
The official said the air force “had been monitoring the community since Friday. And when we had clear information, we moved in but unfortunately, he was not caught in the buildings we attacked.”
He said the raid was carried out by the officers from ‘Operation Forest Sanity’ and air components of ‘Operation Hadarin Daji’ using Mi 17 and Alpha jet while another aircraft provided surveillance throughout the offensive.
When asked how they knew Mr Turji was not one of those killed, the officer simply said “the jets have images of the places during attack and we know those affected.”