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06 Dec 2013 00:00
Policemen stand guard at a burnt-out truck after an attack by Boko Haram on Monday.(Abdulkareem Haruna/AP)
Hundreds of members of the militant Muslim fundamentalist group Boko Haram have staged one of their most audacious attacks yet on a military base in northern Nigeria, prompting a 24-hour curfew that cut off roads and closed airspace, officials and eyewitnesses have said.
An assault by Boko Haram in the city of Maiduguri may have left scores of people dead, the Associated Press reported, and civilians “said they saw bodies with slit throats and corpses of insurgents burning in vehicles”, but there has been no independent verification of the death toll.
The killings dashed recent hopes that Boko Haram has been driven out of Maiduguri and other urban centres into remote rural areas. Since 2009, the group has been waging a violent campaign to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria and impose sharia law on Africa’s largest population.
Monday’s attack was one of its most dramatic and reportedly comprised up to 500 militants.
In trucks and a stolen armoured personnel carrier, they laid siege to air force and army bases, razing buildings and setting shops and petrol stations ablaze on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the city where Boko Haram was founded.
Explosions and automatic gunfire could be heard across the northeastern city from about 2.30am, when the insurgents launched the attack with screams of “Allahu akbar” (God is great).
“My family and I could not sleep till daybreak because the shooting continued until about 8am,” Haruna Ali told Reuters at the scene.
Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said security forces had repelled attacks by “daring terrorists”, adding: “Military locations such as the Nigerian air force base and some army locations in Maiduguri were targeted.”
He said 24 insurgents were killed and many more injured along with two air force personnel, and two helicopters and three disused military aircraft were “incapacitated” in the attack. Flights to and from Maiduguri International Airport, near the air force base, had been disrupted during the clashes but later resumed, Olukolade said.
The state government ordered all civilians to stay at home.
Kashim Shettima, the Borno state governor, vowed defiance: “We are going to replace all buildings destroyed by the insurgents even if they destroy them 100 times. I know we shall overcome the Satanic ideology of this group.”
The attack comes a week after the military bombarded Boko Haram hideouts near the Cameroon border, with air strikes and ground assaults.
President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in May in three states, acknowledging the insurgents had seized control of many towns and villages, and he flooded the area with security forces.
The military forced the militants out of urban centres, but appeared unable to halt attacks on targets like schools and remote villages. – © Guardian News & Media 2013
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