x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Boko Haram’s latest massacre ‘leaves hundreds dead’

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria // Boko Haram militants dressed as soldiers slaughtered hundreds in three villages in northeastern Nigeria and the military failed to intervene even though it was warned that an attack was imminent.

Some community leaders put the death toll in the attacks as high as 400 to 500, although there was no independent verification of the claim because of poor communications and difficulties by the emergency services in accessing the area.

One leader, who witnessed the killings on Monday, said residents of the Gwoza local government district in Borno state had pleaded for the military to send soldiers to protect the area after they heard that militants were about to attack, but help did not arrive.

The killings occurred in Danjara, Agapalwa, and Antagara.

“We all thought they were the soldiers that we earlier reported to that the insurgents might attack us,” said the leader said on Thursday. He escaped the massacre to Maiduguri, Borno state capital.

The militants arrived in Toyota Hilux pickup trucks – commonly used by the military – and told the civilians they were soldiers “and we are here to protect you all”, the same tactic used by the group when they kidnapped more than 300 girls from a school in the town of Chibok on April 15.

The attack was confirmed by both Mohammed Ali Ndume, a senator representing Borno and whose hometown is Gwoza, and by a top security official in Maiduguri who insisted on anonymity.

It took a few days for survivors to get word of the massacres to Maiduguri, the provincial capital, because travel on the roads is extremely dangerous and phone connections are poor or nonexistent.

The community leader wasn’t shot because “I was going round to inform people that the soldiers had come and they wanted to address us,” he said.

As people were fleeing, other gunmen lurked outside the villages on motorcycles and mowed them down.

“The killings are massive but nobody can give a toll for now because nobody has been able to go to that place because the insurgents are still there. They have taken over the whole area,” the politician Peter Biye said.

Militants of Boko Haram, which wants to establish Islamic state in Nigeria, have been taking over villages in the north-east, killing and terrorising civilians and political leaders as the fighters make a comeback from a year-long military offensive aimed at crushing them.

The death toll from Monday’s attacks could be among the highest.

Thousands of people have been killed in the five-year-old insurgency, more than 2,000 so far this year, and an estimated 750,000 Nigerians have been driven from their homes.

Nigeria’s military has insisted that the big influx of troops and a year-old state of emergency in three states which gives them the power to detain suspects, take over buildings and lock down any area has the extremists on the run. But soldiers have said that they are outgunned and outnumbered by the insurgents, don’t have bulletproof vests, are not properly paid and have to forage for food.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse