Hundreds of Boko Haram Islamists on Saturday invaded the restive northeast Nigerian city of Gombe, firing heavy guns and throwing leaflets calling on residents to boycott the forthcoming general elections, locals told AFP.
“The Boko Haram gunmen are now at the Jeka-da-Fari roundabout in the centre of the city, firing indiscriminately and throwing pamphlets calling on people not to participate in the elections,” resident Ali Dahiru said.
Other witnesses said the extremists stormed the city around 9am local time and advanced without any resistance from the security forces.
A Nigerian fighter jet encircled the city but made no attempt to attack the insurgents, said witness Kabiru Na-Gwandu.
He said the residents had been warned to evacuate Gombe, which has been attacked by the insurgents previously.
“I received calls from friends in Kwadam, which is five kilometres away, warning me to leave because Boko Haram were on their way,” said Na-Gwandu, who lives near the military base in the city.
“I evacuated my house along with my family before they arrived in the city and I’m happy that I did because from information I’m receiving they have taken over the military barracks,” he said.
The Boko Haram fighters appealed to residents to boycott the elections which had originally been planned to take place on Saturday before they were postponed until March 28.
Gombe has been repeatedly hit by suicide attacks and other bombings blamed on the Islamists in the six-year insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast.
Two weeks ago, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a stadium, just minutes after President Goodluck Jonathan had left the venue where he had given a campaign speech. Many people were injured.
In February 2012, Boko Haram launched its first offensive on the city, killing 14 people in a bomb attack on a police station. Soldiers repelled another attack on a nearby prison. – AFP