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Officials investigate ‘unfair act’ after military plane crash near find Nigerian schoolchildren abducted

KOLA SULAIMON / AFP via Getty Images

ABUJA, Nigeria – The seven Nigerian Air Force (NAF) personnel who died in a fatal plane crash in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Sunday were about to discover the location of dozens of students abducted by gunmen from their school in north-central Nigeria last week, two senior military sources told the Daily Beast.

The crew – led by Flight Lieutenant Haruna Gadzama, the captain, and Flight Lieutenant Henry Piyo, the co-pilot – were in Minna, the capital of Niger State in north-central Nigeria, to carry out intelligence gathering missions within the framework of consultations. efforts to secure the release of 42 people, including 27 students. The group was kidnapped last Wednesday when gunmen in military uniform raided the government science college in Kagara, killing a student in the process.

On Sunday, officers received information regarding the location of the abductees. According to the two military sources, they quickly flew to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja to refuel their Beechcraft KingAir B350i plane. They were on their way back to Minna when the NAF said the plane reported an engine failure and crashed while trying to return to Abuja, killing everyone on board.

“They had an idea of ​​where the students were at the time and were preparing to inspect the area when the crash happened,” one of the military sources, an NAF officer, said. at the Daily Beast. The source added that if the incident had not happened, he believed Air Force officers “could have reported the exact location of all those abducted from Kagara school” .

News of the plane crash created anxiety across Nigeria and led to rumors on social media that the plane could have been deliberately hit by actors seeking to get rid of the seven officers, described by the NAF in a statement as “well trained” and “dedicated staff.” “Sunday, the chief of air staff of the country, Isiaka Amao ordered an “immediate investigation” the deaths of the officers, who had conducted intelligence-gathering operations throughout the northern region of Nigeria, including the northeast, where militants supported by ISIS and Boko Haram operate.

“We must remain calm and await the outcome of the military investigation,” said Nigerian Aviation Minister Sirika Hadi Tweeted Sunday, appearing to respond to rumors surrounding the cause of the accident. Nigerian authorities have often been accused of protecting armed groups affiliated with the Fulani tribe in the predominantly Muslim northern region of Nigeria, where President Muhammadu Buhari is from. Most of the officers killed in Sunday’s plane crash were from southern Nigeria, a predominantly Christian region.

“Investigators will be looking at all possible causes of the crash, including foul play,” another military source told The Daily Beast. “I am sure that the new Chief of Staff [who was appointed late in January] would like to get to the bottom of it. “

This is not the first time that the deaths of experienced NAF officers at the forefront of the fight against dangerous militants has led to an investigation.

Last year, the country’s first female combat helicopter pilot, Tolulope Arotile, was killed as a result of the impact of a reversing vehicle that crashed into her, raising suspicions across the Nigeria that she was murdered. According to the NAF, Arotile was “inadvertently hit” by “an excited former Air Force high school classmate as he attempted to greet her” inside the base. the NAF in the town of Kaduna in the northwest. The 24-year-old had just returned from an operation the army called “Gama Aiki” in Niger State, where she was deployed in the fight against ISIS-backed militants and other criminal gangs, locally called “bandits”, by stealing. combat missions. Her last combat mission in northern Nigeria was devastating for the terrorists she was targeting.

She stole missions against ISIS-backed terrorists and died in suspicious ‘accident’

Like Arotile, the seven NAF personnel killed in Sunday’s crash were key players in the fight to rid northern Nigeria of bandits and jihadists. According to the NAF, “during the conduct of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions,[the officers] had operated in virtually all theaters, including the northeast, northwest, and north-central. Records show they flew in one of the NAF’s three Beechcraft King Air 350is and were arguably among the most experienced and reliable in the Air Force, which said they were hit hard by the loss.

“The NAF would find it difficult to replace staff based on their training and experience gained over the years,” Ibikunle Daramola, NAF’s director of public relations and information, said in a press release on Monday. on behalf of Air Chief of Staff Amao. “The Service was nevertheless consoled by the fact that the deceased staff gave their best in the service of the nation.

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