Monday 11 December 2017

Nigerian troops repel city attack

Villagers sit on the back of a pick-up truck as they and others flee the recent violence near the city of Maiduguri, Nigeria (AP)
Villagers sit on the back of a pick-up truck as they and others flee the recent violence near the city of Maiduguri, Nigeria (AP)

Nigerian troops have repelled Islamic extremists who attacked from four fronts on Maiduguri, the biggest city in north-east Nigeria, with several civilians killed by aerial bombs and grenades and mortar shells on the ground.

Soldiers said hundreds of insurgents died.

Terrified residents fled homes shaking from five hours of heavy artillery fire and streamed in from the outskirts of the besieged city of two million, already crowded with another 200,000 refugees from the fighting.

For weeks Boko Haram has been closing in on Maiduguri, the group's spiritual birthplace, and if it were able to plant its Islamic State-style flag there, even briefly, it would give them a major boost as the group loses ground in remoter areas, said Jacob Zenn, author of a book about the insurgents.

Its third attack in a week on Maiduguri came as Chadian forces launched a winning offensive, acting on an African Union directive for Nigeria's neighbours to help fight the spreading Islamic uprising by Nigeria's homegrown Boko Haram extremists.

International outrage has grown over attacks across the border into Cameroon and increasing ferocity that culminated in the slaughter of hundreds of civilians in Baga on January 3.

A Chadian jet fighter supported by ground troops bombed the extremists out of Gamboru and Kolfata yesterday and from Malumfatori on Thursday, witnesses said.

Chadian troops in Kolfata were "dancing around their country's flag and chanting," farmer Awami Kolobe said, quoting refugees who returned across the border from Cameroon.

The towns had been under the sway of Boko Haram for months.

African leaders at a summit yesterday authorised the creation of a 7,500-strong multinational force to fight Boko Haram.

Boko Haram warned against the coalition and said it will attack Niger, if it sends troops, just as it has attacked Cameroon.

It comes as Nigerians prepare for a closely contested February 14 presidential election. Boko Haram denounces democracy.

In Maiduguri, a senior army officer said the militants were "everywhere," attacking from all four roads leading into the city.

Another officer said hundreds of insurgents, as many as 500, were killed before they took flight and many weapons were recovered including artillery guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Witnesses said some bombs launched from a Nigerian jet fighter killed civilians. Many homes were hit by bombs, including one in Zannari neighborhood that killed seven civilians, according to neighbours who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from the military.

Ahmadu Marima said troops shot and killed five young men from a civilian self-defence group in his Abujantalakawa suburb, mistaking them for insurgents.

An elderly man and his granddaughter died when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded in their front garden, injuring a second girl, Mr Marima said.

The government declared a state of emergency in three north-eastern states in May 2013 after Boko Haram took control of dozens of villages and towns. Troops quickly drove the insurgents out but since then, ill-equipped and demoralised, have been losing ground.

In August, Boko Haram declared an Islamic caliphate and now holds about 130 towns and villages.

The uprising killed about 10,000 people last year, compared to about 2,000 in the first four years, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations.

Press Association

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