independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

At least 185 die in Nigeria attack

A young girl stands amid the burned ruins of Baga, Nigeria (AP)

Fighting between Nigeria's military and Islamic extremists has killed at least 185 people in the north of the country, officials said.

The violence in a fishing community involved an attack that saw insurgents fire rocket-propelled grenades and soldiers spray machine-gun fire into neighbourhoods filled with civilians.

The fighting in Baga began on Friday and lasted for hours, sending people fleeing into the arid scrublands surrounding the community on Lake Chad.

By Sunday, when government officials finally felt safe enough to see the destruction, homes, businesses and vehicles were burned throughout the area.

The assault marks a significant escalation in the long-running insurgency Nigeria faces in its predominantly Muslim north, with Boko Haram extremists mounting a co-ordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry.

The killings mark one of the deadliest incidents to involve Boko Haram. The authorities had found and buried at least 185 bodies as of Sunday afternoon, said Lawan Kole, a local government official in Baga. Officials could not offer a breakdown of civilian casualties against those of soldiers and extremist fighters.

Many of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition in fires that destroyed whole sections of the town, residents said. Those killed were buried as soon as possible, following local Muslim tradition.

Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye said Boko Haram extremists used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault.

It began after soldiers surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the radical Islamic extremist network.

Extremists earlier had killed a military officer, the general said. He said extremists used civilians as human shields during the fighting.

Press Association

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