ABUJA, Nigeria – Nigeria’s air force says armed bandits have shot down one of their fighter jets for the first time. It said the jet was shot down on Monday when it carried out air strikes against criminal gangs in the states of northern Kaduna and Zamfara. An Air Force spokesman said the pilot ejected safely, but analysts and critics warned that the attack showed a previously unknown level of firepower and a threat to stability.
Officers at a military base in Kaduna rejoice as the pilot of the ill-fated Alpha attack jet, Abayomi Dero, returned to the base on Monday.
The Nigerian Air Force statement said Diaro ejected from the jet shortly before the crash and also survived heavy ground fire from the bandits.
Nigerian authorities have turned to air operations to destroy criminal gangs, known locally as bandits, operating in the country’s north-western regions. Officials say hundreds of bandits have been killed in airstrikes in recent weeks.
But security analyst Senator Iroegbu says the downing of the fighter plane shows the bandits are getting boosted.
“It’s worrying that so-called bandits have so much capability and capability because they can shoot down an Alpha jet … which means they can have aerial missiles.[s]. I’m not sure that a simple anti-aircraft gun could shoot down such a jet,” Iroegbu said.
Criminal gangs gained notoriety late last year through mass kidnappings of school students and heavy ransom demands.
More than 1,000 school students have been kidnapped since December. Most have been freed through negotiations, but some are still being held captive.
Iroegbu said he suspected the ransom money paid to the kidnappers was being used to buy more sophisticated weapons. “It’s their way of getting more money to get more weapons for whatever they’re doing,” he said.
The authorities have strongly opposed the ransom to the bandits. Last month, officials moved to enact a law that criminalizes ransom payments and punishes those with up to 15 years in prison. The bill has been opposed and is under review.
In May, eleven top military officers, including the army chief, were killed in a plane crash in northwestern Kaduna state. Officials said the crash was caused by bad weather, and there have been no claims that the plane was shot down.