Boko Haram jihadists have kidnapped a hospital’s head doctor, a nurse and their driver in western Chad, civilian and military sources said Thursday.
It was the first abduction targeting medical personnel in the region, where Boko Haram has raided many villages, kidnapping mainly women, they said.
The medical team was headed to the town of Tchoukouliya on the northern shore of Lake Chad, a Boko Haram stronghold, when they were snatched on Wednesday, local governor Nouki Charfadine told newsmen.
“The kidnappers took them away on a motorised canoe on the lake,” Charfadine said.
Boko Haram has training camps on several of the islands that dot the vast, shallow lake, which straddles the borders of Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon as well as Chad.
A high-ranking military official said on condition of anonymity that the three staff from the hospital in Bagassoula, all Chadians, had not notified authorities of their itinerary.
“They were intercepted by Boko Haram elements, and local people alerted us after spotting their abandoned car with all four doors open,” the source said, adding that the army had launched a search for the victims.
Top military and government officials also pointed the finger at Boko Haram.
The jihadist insurgency, which broke out in northeastern Nigeria a decade ago, has spilt over into neighbouring countries.
In early September, Boko Haram killed four civilians and three soldiers in a week in the same area where Wednesday’s kidnapping occurred.
The attacks and military operations against Boko Haram have claimed some 35,000 lives since 2009.
This year alone 140,000 people have been displaced by renewed Boko Haram violence and more than three million people endure food insecurity as farmers have been unable to plant crops, according to the United Nations.
In 2015, the Lake Chad countries, together with Benin, set up a combined force to fight Boko Haram with the help of local groups of armed citizens.
Boko Haram, loosely translated as “Western education is banned”, wants to create a hardline Islamic state.