The governor of Nigeria's northeastern Borno State said Tuesday that the 219 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants could be hidden in underground bunkers.
"We are suspecting that Chibok girls are living with the insurgents in bunkers," governor Kashim Shettima said at a lecture in capital Abuja on Tuesday.
"I think the military must carry out its operations beyond the surface earth," he said.
The governor argued that Boko Haram militants were known to have dug tunnels to enable them to move from house to house.
"So, having been left unchallenged for such a long time, such possibilities cannot be ruled out which poses serious obstacles within the forest," Shettima said.
The governor said that the militants appear more rooted in the region than earlier thought, recalling how they were able to launch large-scale attacks in Nigeria and neighboring Niger and Chad.
"The insurgents used their bases in the Sambisa Forest to launch deadly attacks and make quick retreat to their base which enabled them to capture and take over control of all the LGAs [local government areas] in the Nigeria/Cameroon, Chad and Niger borders, thus effectively cutting off the three neighboring countries, thereby declaring what they assumed was their independent territory (caliphate)."
One year ago, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from Borno State's sleepy town of Chibok.
Only 57 of them have since escaped captivity, while 219 are still thought to be held by the militant group.
Shettima's hint at Boko Haram operating a bunker is the first such suggestions since army began a massive operation that has cleared the militants form much of the areas they earlier captured in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe - the three northeastern states where the insurgency was most brutal.
Following almost two months of hiatus in their attacks, Boko Haram militants are gradually resurfacing with skeletal but deadly attacks in some villages of the region.
Earlier Tuesday, up to nine people were killed in a suicide attack in a village in Adamawa, just hours after a village was raided by the militants, killing at least one and reportedly abducting seven women.
Last week, up to 50 people died in Boko Haram raids on some Borno villages - although their attempt to break into a military barrack in Maiduguri was foiled. Several terrorists were killed by the troops in the failed attack.
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