Friday, 06 March 2015 09:26

Boko Haram kills dozens in Nigeria as militants ready for possible assault by government forces

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Nigerian forces have been struggling to contain the Boko Haram insurgencyBoko Haram fighters have killed 68 people, many of them children, in northeast Nigeria, as militants begin amassing in the strategic town of Gwoza against a possible assault by government forces.

The atrocity in Njaba, 50 kilometres from the Borno state capital Maiduguri, happened at dawn on Tuesday and also saw attackers raze the village, witnesses and vigilantes said.

Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger last month began a joint operation against the Islamists, who have captured swathes of territory in the northeast and also begun cross-border attacks.

Since then, the military has claimed the recapture of several key towns, including Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, where hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed.

On Thursday, Nigeria announced troops were now in "full control" of Mafa, 50 kilometres east of Maiduguri, "after completing the operation to clear terrorists from the town".

There was no independent verification of the claim.

But experts have said that with Boko Haram pushed out of its strongholds, deadly violence would continue, especially in remote areas and through suicide bombings in towns and cities.

Villagers slaughtered, witnesses say

Njaba village is 20 kilometres from the town of Damboa, which was seized by Boko Haram last June, forcing thousands to flee, but later recaptured by troops helped by local civilian vigilantes.

One woman, Falmata Bisika, 62, lost four of her grandchildren in the latest attack, which she said was carried out by gunmen "armed to the teeth" with weapons and explosives.

"68 people were killed... some were slaughtered and others shot dead and most of the houses in our village have been destroyed."
Villager
The militants destroyed homes and businesses with petrol bombs and shot anyone attempting to flee, "especially teenagers and the elderly", she said.

Muminu Haruna, 42, said he hid in a grain silo behind his house with about eight other people until the gunmen left.

"I participated in the counting of dead bodies... 68 people were killed," he said in an account supported by two civilian vigilantes.

"These included both males and females, some were slaughtered and others shot dead and most of the houses in our village have been destroyed."

Mr Haruna said the villagers had expected the attack, as other localities nearby had been targeted and because the village was en route from militant bases in the Gwoza forest and mountains.

Militant build-up in strategic town.

Reclaiming Gwoza would be a huge prize for Nigeria's military, as it battled to secure and stabilise the northeast in time for rescheduled presidential and parliamentary elections on March 28.

Observers have cast doubt on the six-week timeframe, given that Nigeria had been unable - some say unwilling - to end the violence in the six years since the start of the insurgency.

There are also lingering questions about whether some of the one million displaced by the conflict would be able to vote, even if the rebellion was put down.

Chad's well-trained army has offered a huge boost to Nigeria in recent weeks, recapturing towns in border areas and pushing into territory near Boko Haram's Sambisa Forest training camps.

Chadian president Idriss Deby this week claimed he knew where Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was and called on him to surrender or be killed.

The Nigerian authorities have declared Shekau dead three times, but the military has since reportedly said it wanted the militant leader captured alive.

-AFP

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