Gunmen attacked an army base and a town in northeast Nigeria killing nine soldiers, two policemen and civilians, security sources and residents said Sunday, in the latest violence in the region.
Riding in trucks fitted with machineguns, the fighters, suspected to be members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), stormed the town of Malam Fatori, in Abadam district, late Friday and early Saturday, they said.
“ISWAP terrorists attacked Malam Fatori and caused huge destruction which we are working to quantify,” a military officer told AFP.
“They attacked the military base and engaged troops in a fight while a second group went on a killing spree and arson in the town,” said the officer who asked not to be identified.
The first attack, near the Niger border, came at dusk Friday, leading to a fierce battle with soldiers who repelled the assault, said resident Buji Garwa.
In a predawn attack on the base and the town on Saturday, the jihadists threw explosives and killed residents, while others drowned in a river trying to flee.
Two security sources said on Sunday that nine soldiers and two policemen were killed in the base attack.
“The number of casualties sustained in the base is 11, including nine soldiers and two mobile policemen working alongside troops,” a military officer said.
The same toll was confirmed by a second security source.
“We lost nine soldiers and two policemen from the base. It is still not clear how many people civilians were killed inside the town,” said the second security source.
“It is not clear how many people were killed because we all fled the town and are now gradually returning to assess the damage,” Garwa said, adding much of the town had been set ablaze.
“We have started combing the bushes and picking (up) bodies of those killed and searching along the riverbanks to find those washed to the shores,” he said.
Another resident, Baitu Madari, said she had counted a dozen people killed in her neighborhood.
“I have no idea of the number of the dead bodies recovered in other parts of town. The destruction is really huge,” she said.
According to an intelligence officer, the attackers came from nearby Kamuya village.
“Kamuya is the largest ISWAP camp in Lake Chad area which is just 8 kilometers from Malam Fatori,” the source said.
“All the previous unsuccessful attacks on Malam Fatori were launched from Kamuya, which is well fortified with mines and heavy weapons,” he added.
Malam Fatori, 200 kilometers from the regional capital Maiduguri, on the fringes of Lake Chad, was seized by Boko Haram jihadis in 2014 but clawed back by the military in 2015.
A base was established in the town to repel attacks from ISWAP, which split from Boko Haram in 2016 and turned Lake Chad into a bastion.
In March, thousands of people who fled to Maiduguri and into neighboring Niger were returned to Malam Fatori on Borno state government orders, despite concern by aid agencies.
The conflict, which broke out in 2009 has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced around 2 million.
The violence has spilled into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military force to fight the insurgents.