There is growing concern among local authorities and analysts of potential alliances between the bandits and other armed groups like Boko Haram.
Gunmen who attacked a train in northwest Nigeria and killed at least eight people have released a video of a bank executive who was among an unspecified number of passengers taken hostage.
The attack on the train between the capital Abuja and the city of Kaduna last week was a major escalation in violence in northwest Nigeria blamed on heavily armed criminal gangs, known locally as bandits.
The video posted online on Wednesday shows Alwan Ali-Hassan, director of Nigeria’s Bank of Agriculture, flanked by four armed masked men in military uniforms facing the camera. In it, they called on the authorities to meet the demands of his captors to secure the release of other hostages who “are in a dire situation”.
AFP said it could not independently verify the authenticity of the video but family members confirmed Ali-Hassan was the one in the video and that he was released by the gunmen on Wednesday.
No specific group has claimed responsibility for the video shot in an undisclosed forest area with an armoured vehicle in the background.
The men do not claim affiliation to a group, but the recording resembles propaganda videos sent by armed groups waging a more than 12-year rebellion to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria’s northeast.
The opening prayer in Arabic by one of the masked men is the same as in all the previous propaganda videos released by Boko Haram and the Islamic West Africa Province (ISWAP). The positioning of the gunmen with the hostage is also typical of those videos.
In the video, the speaker said they decided to release the hostage out of compassion as a “Ramadan gesture”, referring to the Muslim holy month of fasting, and his “advanced age”.
Although the speaker claimed no ransom was paid for Ali-Hassan’s release, family sources said they had to pay money to the captors.
Survivors of the March 28 train attack say gunmen opened fire after blowing up the railway.
One week after the train attack, the whereabouts of 168 passengers are still unknown, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) said, though it is not clear how many may have returned home and not contacted officials.
Northwest and central Nigeria have been terrorised by criminal gangs who raid villages, killing residents and kidnapping for ransom, as well as looting homes. But their attacks and abductions have intensified.
Although the gangs who are motivated by financial gains have no ideological leaning, there is concern among local authorities and analysts of growing potential alliances with Boko Haram or other similar groups.