File Photo: Members of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram. (Agence France-Presse)
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have kidnapped 40 boys and young men in a remote village in northeast Nigerian Borno state on New Year's Eve, residents who fled the isolated settlement said on Saturday.
Scores of Boko Haram militants stormed the Malari village around 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) and whisked away the males, aged between 10 and 23, into the nearby Sambisa forest, believed to be one of the Islamists' major bases.
The news of the abductions came out only days later, after residents who fled the village arrived in the state capital Maiduguri late on Friday.
"They came in pick-up trucks armed with guns and gathered all the men in the village outside the home of the village chief where they preached to us before singling out 40 of our boys and taking them away," Bulama Muhammad told AFP
Malari village lies 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) from the Sambisa forest and close to the town of Gwoza, which the militants captured last June declaring it part of their caliphate.
"My two sons and three nephews were among those taken away by the Boko Haram gunmen and we believe they are going to use them as conscripts," Muhammad said.
'We could be the next target'
"When we heard of the kidnap of 40 boys in Malari by Boko Haram we decided to leave because we could be the next target," said Alaramma Babagoni, who fled from the nearby village of Mulgwi.
"Boko Haram has been abducting young men from villages in the area because we are close to their stronghold in Sambisa forest," he said.
There was no immediate comment on the incident from the military in Maiduguri.
Residents of Malari and nearby villages fled, fearing further attacks and abductions.
Boko Haram has recently been seizing young men during raids on area villages to use as foot soldiers in its uprising aimed at establishing an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, residents said.
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen launched a deadly raid Tuesday on Kautikari village near Chibok, torched several buildings and killed as many as 15 people, according to witnesses.
There was no toll available from an official source on the raid.
Boko Haram is still holding in captivity more than 200 schoolgirls it abducted from their school in Chibok in Borno state last April.
The abduction drew worldwide condemnation, after which President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to secure the area, including by deploying more troops. But the promised troop numbers have failed to materialise, often leaving residents to rely entirely on vigilantes for protection.
The Islamists are believed to control large swathes of territory in Borno as well as several towns and villages in two other northeastern states, Adamawa and Yobe.
Boko Haram's five-year uprising in Nigeria has claimed more than 13,000 lives and has seen dozens of people, including women and children, kidnapped by the Islamists.