A ruthless criminal gang with over 30,000 members is spreading out of Nigeria into Europe – where it’s overwhelming previously well-established groups such as Italy’s Mafia.
The Black Axe is one of several outlaw “cults” based in Nigeria. The gang even has an informal “murder league” with other crime syndicates, keeping score of how many people they have killed.
A BBC Africa report quotes one online post from the group, which claims: “Score is presently 15-2, the war is Benin”. Another grim fact “scoreline”Reads “Hit in Anambra state. Score is Aye [Black Axe] 4 and Buccaneers 2”.
“Axemen” routinely post photos of dead bodies showing clear signs of torture to Nigerian social media as a form of intimidation, as well as to brag about their exploits.
The group recruits its members – most of whom are young well-educated men – through a brutal hazing process known as “bamming”.
One Black Axe member describes how gang members took him from his university campus, and then took him to a wooded location where he was stripped naked. He was then whipped with bamboo canes till he began to bleed.
He started to feel that he might not be able to survive the beatings and threats of gang-rape from his girlfriend by the gang members.
The beating stopped suddenly. The young man was forced to drink some of his blood and then chew a Kola Nut, a locally-grown, caffeine-rich seed. He was then reborn as a Black Axe Member. “Axeman”
Dr John Stone was a Black Axe operative. “butcher” who has lost count of how many people he killed in the cult’s service.
According to him, the BBCHe is haunted daily by the memories of his victims, begging for their life.
“It’s so painful,”He says. “The families of the dead, they will curse you. A curse will be upon your life.”
It can be dangerous to leave the group. A former member shared the story of how they were given a warning. It read: “A manhunt will befall you. The AXE will pierce through your skull… I will lick your blood and chew your eyes.”
But for all its violent ways, the Black Axe gang’s main income is not from murder or its people-trafficking operation, but from spam email and internet fraud.
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Black Axe operates a huge, sophisticated network of romance scams – where victims on dating sites are duped into sending money to a stranger – and other forms of deception. One victim reported that he was defrauded over $3 million.
Scott Augenbaum, a former FBI special agent and cyber-security expert, says Black Axe’s scams can be devastating: “I’ve seen lives destroyed, companies go out of business, life savings lost,”He said. “It affects everyone.”
“Axemen”The words are often used “mugu”Oder “maye,” Nigerian slang terms for “idiots,”They are their victims.
It’s a huge operation. Hacker “Uche Tobias”BBC Africa told him that he had hacked into secret records to find evidence that the group was operating “throughout Europe, America, South America and Asia.”
It is not a little club,” he added. “This is a fantastically large criminal organisation.”
The group’s tentacles extend deep into Nigeria’s political and law enforcement communities protecting its members and helping them into positions of power where they can help protect Black Axe and advance its causes.
Tony Kabaka, another former member who has survived countless assassination attempts, said: ”If you sat me down and say, ‘Can you identify Black Axe in government?’” he says. “Most politicians, almost everybody is involved.”