Behind many of the “romantic scams” and financial scams that plague internet users is a ruthless gang operating out of Benin, Nigeria and now beginning to spread worldwide
A ruthless criminal gang with over 30,000 members is spreading from Nigeria into Europe – where it is overwhelming previously well-established groups like the Italian mafia.
The Black Ax is one of several lawless “cults” based in Nigeria. The gang even has an informal “murder league” with other crime syndicates that counts how many people they’ve killed.
A BBC Africa report quotes an online post by the group as claiming: “The score is currently 15-2, the war is Benin”. score is yes [Black Axe] 4 and Buccaneers 2″.
“Axemen” routinely post photos of corpses with obvious signs of torture on Nigerian social media to intimidate them and boast of their exploits.
The group recruits its members – most of whom are young, well-educated males – through a brutal process of harassment known as “bamming”.
A member of Black Ax writes how he was taken away from his university campus by gang members and taken to a wooded area, where he was stripped naked and flogged with bamboo sticks until he bled.
When the gang members whipped him and threatened to rape his girlfriend, he began to think he might not survive the ordeal.
But the beating suddenly stopped. The young man was then forced to drink some of his own blood and chew a kola nut, the locally grown caffeine-rich seed that’s a staple in Nigeria, after which he was reincarnated as a member of the Black Ax, or “Axeman.”
dr John Stone is a former Black Ax “butcher” who has lost count of the number of people he has killed in the service of the cult.
He told the BBC he was haunted by the memory of his victims begging for their lives.
“It hurts so much,” he says. “The families of the dead, they will curse you. A curse will be upon your life.”
Leaving the group can be dangerous. A former member recounts how they received a warning that read: “A manhunt will hit you. The AX will pierce your skull… I will lick your blood and chew your eyes.”
But for all their violent tactics, the Black Ax gang’s main income comes not from murder or their human trafficking, but from spam emails and internet fraud.
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Black Ax operates a vast, sophisticated network of romance scams — tricking victims on dating sites into sending money to a stranger — and other forms of deception. One victim said he was cheated out of over $3 million.
Scott Augenbaum, a former FBI special agent and cybersecurity expert, says Black Ax scams can be devastating: “I’ve seen lives destroyed, businesses gone bust, life savings lost,” he said. “It is concerning everybody.”
“Axemen” often use the words “mugu” or “maye,” Nigerian slang terms for “idiots,” to refer to their victims.
It’s a huge operation. Hacker “Uche Tobias” told BBC Africa when he hacked into secret records that he had found evidence the group was operating “all over Europe and America, South America and Asia”.
It’s not a small club,” he added. “This is a fantastically large criminal organization.”
The group’s tentacles reach deep into Nigeria’s political and law enforcement communities to protect its members and position them in positions of power where they can help protect Black Axe and advance his causes.
Tony Kabaka, another former member who has survived countless assassinations, said, “If you sit me down and say, ‘Can you identify Black Ax in government?'” he says. “Most politicians, almost everyone is involved.”