POSTSCRIPTUM: Geolocating the execution of a Nigerian vigilante by ISWAP
A child soldier killed him in a village where more than a hundred soldiers died in 2018.
In its most recent video release, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) showcased a training camp for the “Cubs of Caliphate” - a program taken straight from the former main IS areas in Iraq in Syria. In this program, children - many of them preadolescents - receive a particular type of education from ISWAP instructors, participate in various physical activities, and learn how to use weapons in future attacks. The most shocking part was the execution of three captives - two Nigerian soldiers and a militia member - by the children, one of whom about 11-12 years old. To summarize the video in one sentence, we see how their innocence is quickly destroyed and how the instructors turn them into deadly machines.
Based on the footage shown in the video and the available open-source material (despite its scarcity), it was possible to determine the exact location of one of those executions. Other clues, visible in the release, also made it possible to make a rough estimate of the time it had taken place. In summary, a vigilante named M. (his full name and face will not be shown in this article, out of respect for him and his family) was executed by a teenage ISWAP militant in the village of Metele, most likely in August 2021.
The village of Metele first became known to the public eye in late 2018. Soldiers of 157 Task Force Battalion, stationed in the Forward Operation Base (FOB) Metele (located less than three kilometers southeast of the village), were attacked twice in a couple of weeks. First, in October, 18 troops were killed after the raid on the base, but it later turned out that it was just a beginning. In mid-November, a second attack completely dislodged the soldiers inside the base. For more than three years, the Nigerian Army has had no presence in Metele.
Sources use different figures to describe the outcome of the November attack, but without a doubt, the troops stood no chance in the face of a massive assault. For example, ISWAP claimed having killed at least 40 soldiers, capturing four SUVs and five armored vehicles. However, the number of killed was later revised in the al-Naba’ weekly newspaper to 100. The same number is used by Vox Peccavi's blog, which adds that “the enemy allegedly won the fire fight after 45 minutes.”
Following the attack, PremiumTimes posted the account of one of the soldiers attacked by ISWAP in Metele. He said his unit had been attacked around 6:00 pm. After a soldier on the observation post noticed the incoming assailants, everyone took cover inside the base, waiting for the militants. This tactic failed, as the enemy had a firepower advantage. Moreover, the FOB, surrounded by barbed wire, became a deadly trap for the soldiers. The attack became a massacre.
When we realised the fight would be against us, we decided to retreat from the camp, but it was rather too late. The camp was surrounded with barbed wire, and the enemy fire was coming from the direction of the entrance. We were like surrounded.
One of the drivers of the gun trucks decided to push through the barbed wire so that other vehicles could follow and escape, but the truck got stuck, that was how many of our soldiers in other vehicles and those on foot were massacred.
Satellite images, taken just a couple of days after the incident, show that the village had been abandoned and destroyed (it was impossible to determine when), while the FOB appeared to be still intact. However, year after year, it would have started to deteriorate (however, even in the more recent images, its general outline is still visible).
A previous Metele-related execution
For unknown reasons, ISWAP did not use that attack for propaganda purposes. The group ever published no photo reports or videos from it. However, Metele is mentioned once in an ISWAP video release called “And Kill Them Wherever You Overtake Them.”
One of the hostages taken by the militants - a soldier in the rank of Corporal - says he belonged to 221 Battalion but was attached to 119 Battalion, stationed in Kangarwa (a village not far from Metele, also attacked and dislodged in November 2018). However, he then adds he was captured with his tank during the big attack in Metele. The video shows him kneeling with three militants behind and his tank (which is, in fact, an FV101 Scorpion reconnaissance vehicle) in the background.
He is then shown executed in a gruesome fashion - one of the militants fires a rocket-propelled grenade at him. As he had been blindfolded, he had no idea what was going to happen. The explosion kills him instantly.
Setting the stage - how ISWAP captured the vigilante
As said in the previous article, one part of the “Empowerment Generation” video showed the participants of the “Cubs of the Caliphate” training course taking part in mock assaults. During those, they could be seen taking three captives - two Nigerian soldiers and one vigilante, working with the military. As it turns out, all three had been captured by ISWAP before and are used for that scene as nothing more than just props.
The vigilante is “found” by the boys in one of the rooms, lying down handcuffed. As he is shown on camera, a short audio recording plays:
My name is M., I live in Maiduguri and work with a militia loyal to the [Nigerian] Army. I was captured in Mairari.
Out of all attacks claimed by ISWAP from Mairari (a village located some ten kilometers west of Monguno, in Guzamala Local Government Area), only one matches the description given by the vigilante - an assault from 17 July 2021. Here is how the group’s statement regarding the attack.
With the help of Allah Almighty, the Soldiers of the Caliphate attacked a position of the apostate Nigerian militia in the town of Mairari, in the Borno region, yesterday, leading to the death of two members and the capture of two others. The Mujahideen seized a 4x4 vehicle, in addition to ten weapons. All praise be to Allah.
Unlike the two soldiers, he was not photographed after capture since ISWAP did not publish any photo reports from that attack.
The scene of the execution of M. is very brief - it is only 43 seconds long (23:53-24:36). He is seen being brought onto the filming site (with a small pond and several abandoned buildings in the background) by a masked armed teenage ISWAP militant and forced on his knees. The gunner then raises his assault rifle, shoots him in the back of the head, and leaves.
However, several clues make it possible to geolocate it successfully, even in this short scene.
The initial camera shot shows two relatively long and narrow buildings standing next to each other in the background. The second camera then shows the executioner and the victim from another angle, and another building (perhaps even two) can be seen. In this case, however, the name “ETF 2007/2008 PROJECT” can be seen on one of the walls. Additionally, the ruins of this building are standing in the middle of the water, without a doubt an unusual sight. Altogether, it appears that the execution took place near an L-shaped complex of buildings (or perhaps even larger, as it may not have shown everything)
The man is finally led to the place of execution. The murder itself is recorded with two cameras, capturing both angles. This helps with spotting more details - the size of the pond in the background, more ruins of buildings, and threes. In addition, some small weeds can be seen close to the vigilante, showing that the sandy edge, at least in this exact part, is very narrow.
Seconds later, M. is shot dead with a bullet to his head.
Searching for “ETF 2007/2008 PROJECT Borno State” in Google gives several results, and the first one is a 372 page-long PDF document called “Education Trust Fund (ETF) Year 2008 Reconciled Projects in Educational Projects Nationwide.” Searching for “Borno” in that document gives 102 results, most of them related to construction projects of classrooms in different locations of the state. However, one can quickly narrow it down to only those places where ISWAP is active and capable or where there was no Nigerian Army activity. One of the projects in those places was one project number “SUBEB/BORNO/ETF/07-08/29” - “(xxix) Construction of 3No. block of 2-classrooms with office and store at Metele Primary School, Abadan (sic) LGA @N5,659,509.38.”
Looking at a satellite map of Metele (like one shown earlier, from November 2018), it is possible to see a complex of long and narrow buildings. However, instead of an L-shape, they form a U-shape. What is more, near those buildings there is a small pond, although at that time it was not surrounding one of them. Looking at an image from July 2020, it appears that the water actually did spread towards the complex. Verification of other parts from the video is, however, impossible due to cloud cover over the parts of Metele.
Thankfully, on Zoom.Earth, there are no clouds in sight. The satellite image available there allows confirmation of every visual clue, including the trees in the background. They can all be plotted together on one map (visible below).
Based on those clues, it can be said that the exact location of the execution of the vigilante M. has coordinates (with a five-meter tolerance) 13.357564,13.423778 - on the southeastern edge of the village of Metele, in Abadam LGA.
We know the location, but can we establish when it happened? Unfortunately, this is a more difficult task. It is impossible to do it using only the execution scene (although it provides some additional clues) or the satellite images. However, a rough estimate is available based on other details, including one in another video scene.
As mentioned earlier, M. was captured on 17 July 2021, a couple dozen kilometers from Metele. It means he could not have been executed before 20 July. Furthermore, the vegetation in the execution scene is very green, and the weeds are relatively tall, meaning it must have taken place during the rain season, no later than October 2021. However, the biggest clue is during the Arabic lesson scene - as mentioned in the previous article, it is shown to be 18 August 2021. While the entire video aims to show “a day in the life of Cubs of the Caliphate”, it might have as well been recorded over the course of two or three days. Altogether, it means he most likely died in the third week of August 2021.
Vigilante M., a member of a militia working with the Nigerian Army, was captured by ISWAP during an assault in Mairari on 17 July 2021. He was taken to an ISWAP base, used as a prop for a propaganda video, and executed by a teenage militant near Metele Primary School, on the southeastern edge of the village, presumably between 15 and 21 August 2021.
Hello Thomas, thanks a lot for your research.
Seems like the areas between Monguno, Malam Fatori and Damasak basically remain uncontested ISWAP-governed areas. In Niger the government is always talking about the return of the Nigerian refugees, but as most of them are from Abadam and Mobbar LGAs the repatriation into ISWAP's realm seems rather questionable.
In case you are interested in the geographical impact of the destruction by the armed groups in Borno check out https://googleearthcommunity.proboards.com/thread/6373/conflict-settlement-destruction-eastern-nigeria (I think you my need to login). It may now be a bit outdated, but there are some interesting trends even back in the days, like the creation of new villages and the return of the population to areas like Bama and Banki.
Have a great day