Hundreds of villagers fled their homes in Nigeria’s northeast after a Boko Haram attack, militia officials and witnesses said, just days after a video hinted at reconciliation between jihadist factions that split in 2016.
The raid late on Saturday, November 10 highlighted fragile security in Nigeria’s northeast, where the army is still battling to end a conflict that erupted in 2009.
“One disabled person was allegedly killed while 65 houses were burnt, 200 cows and 300 flock of sheep and goats were carted away,” the National Emergency Management Agency said.
“Injured victims have been provided with first aid and humanitarian needs assessment is being conducted to enable the mobilisation of immediate relief assistance,” it said.
Militants arrived in trucks in Jimmi, 5 km (3 miles) from Borno state capital Maiduguri, and opened fire, setting homes ablaze and also attacking an informal refugee camp.
“Boko Haram terrorists this evening attacked Jimmi village,” militia leader in Maiduguri Musa Ari said. “They burnt homes in Jimmi and tents in the camp.”
Military authorities scrambled reinforcements and fighter jets to repel the attack, said militia leader Ibrahim Liman.
Panicked villagers from the area fled to Maiduguri.
“We left our village to escape Boko Haram who attacked our neighbours in Jimmi,” said Bale-Shuwa village resident Suleiman Balarabe, adding that villagers saw military jets flying overhead towards Jimmi.
“The sounds of guns coming from Jimmi terrified us and made us leave our homes because we were afraid they were going to attack our neighbourhood,” said Sanda Gini, a resident of Jiddari-Polo area on the outskirts of Maiduguri.
In April, scores of Boko Haram fighters launched a suicide bomb and gun attack on Jiddari-Polo when they advanced on Giwa barracks where hundreds of their militant comrades are being detained. Insurgents fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at troops before they were repelled with aerial support.
Boko Haram has lately intensified its armed campaign, launching a number of major assaults in Nigeria’s remote northeast region. Attacks on military bases have been on the increase, with at least nine others since July, mostly in the northern part of Borno state, near the shores of Lake Chad.
Scores of soldiers have been killed, injured or are missing in the latest wave of attacks, but the military has repeatedly denied or played down losses.
Boko Haram faction leader claims attack on military
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of one of two Boko Haram factions, claimed a series of attacks in northeast Nigeria in a video message obtained by AFP on Friday, November 9.
The firebrand leader said his fighters were responsible for an attack on Nigeria’s military on November 4 in Kumshe, near the Cameroon border, and other attacks in recent days.
“We are responsible for attacks such as those in Kumshe, Gulumba, and other villages where attacks are being carried out in recent days, with the help of Allah,” Shekau said in the eight-minute recording – his first public utterance since July.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016 over ideological differences, and they have competing goals and operational methods. The Shekau faction is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians, while the other, known as Islamic State West Africa Province and led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi, largely focuses on attacking military and government targets.
Shekau has pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but ISIS central gave its formal backing only to ISWAP.
According to AFP, Shekau displays the Arabic logo and black flag of ISWAP in the new video.
A second video was released that purported to document the attack on Kumshe, showing burning barracks and militants taking weapons and ammunition as spoils, although it was not possible to determine the location.
On November 7, Islamic State also claimed the Kumshe attack, and a day earlier claimed a November 5 attack on a military base in Kukawa.
More radical elements are said to have recently taken over the ISWAP leadership, killing the group’s de facto leader, Mamman Nur, as well as another commander who allegedly planned to surrender along with 300 hostages.
The Shekau-led faction is concentrated in rural areas of Borno state, while ISWAP is dominant around the shores of Lake Chad.
ISWAP has in recent months been blamed for the increasing attacks on military bases in Borno and nearby Yobe state – at least ten since July. Scores of soldiers have been killed, injured or are missing in the latest wave of attacks, but the military has repeatedly denied or played down losses.
The Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point in August estimated that ISWAP has around 3,500 fighters, while the Shekau faction could consist of up to 1,500 militants.
The recent surge also undermines repeated claims by the military that the insurgent group has been defeated. If the two factions are reconciled, Boko Haram could pose an even more serious challenge to the military counter-insurgency
President Muhammadu Buhari said Boko Haram was “technically defeated” three years ago and has repeatedly insisted that the group is a spent force as he gears up for elections next year.
The jihadist insurgency is in its ninth year and has left more than 27,000 people dead and displaced 2.6 million. Although Boko Haram no longer controls the swathes of territory in northeast Nigeria it did at its 2014 height, its militants still pose a threat to the region.
With reporting from AFP