Fourteen people were killed and thousands fled after Boko Haram attacked a remote town in northeast Nigeria, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said on Wednesday, January 16.
The medical charity said Monday’s attack in Rann, in Borno state near the border with Cameroon, also destroyed some of its facilities and would affect humanitarian operations.
MSF’s emergency program manager, Hugues Robert, said a small team returned to Rann on Tuesday to assess the damage, and described the situation on the ground as “chaotic.”
“The figures we got yesterday from people who have been there … were 14 people died,” he told AFP by phone from Geneva.
Three of the 14 were soldiers, he added.
Military and humanitarian sources said on Tuesday that seven people were killed, including three soldiers.
Rann, around 175 km (110 miles) northeast of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, hosts some 35,000 internally displaced people, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The town has been repeatedly attacked in the nine-year conflict and has been hit three times since March 2018.
In an attack on March 1, eight security personnel and three aid workers were killed. Three other aid workers were kidnapped, two of whom were later executed.
On December 6, Boko Haram fighters attacked a military base in Rann, but it was unclear which faction they belonged to. After an hour’s heavy fighting, the militants were pushed out with aerial support, one security source told AFP.
As with the December attack, it is unclear which Boko Haram faction carried out Wednesday’s attack.
Boko Haram split into two factions in mid-2016. One is led by Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi and largely focuses on attacking military and government targets, while the other, led by Abubakar Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
Shekau has pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but ISIS central gave its formal backing to the Barnawi faction, which is known as Islamic State West Africa province.
ISWA has lately intensified its armed campaign, launching dozens of assaults on military targets in Borno and neighboring Yobe state amid signs of a takeover by more hardline leaders.
There have been dozens of assaults on military bases since July, most of which have been blamed on ISWA, or claimed by ISIS as ISWA attacks.
The raids are part of a wider pattern of attacks in northern Borno, which the United Nations has warned is increasingly affecting civilians.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 2009, and 1.8 million people are still homeless and in need of humanitarian assistance.
Nigeria’s government and military have repeatedly insisted Boko Haram is a spent force and over the last year has encouraged internally displaced people to return.
The United Nations said more than 30,000 people had since sought refuge in the garrison town of Monguno and the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after ISWA fighters attacked three military bases in and around Baga late last month. On January 10, Nigerian troops returned to the strategic town of Baga.
Of the 35,000 IDPs who were in Rann at the time of the attack, about 10,000 had fled to the border, MSF’s Robert said.
Another aid worker in Maiduguri, who asked not to be identified, said many of the thousands went to the town of Bodo, and would be taken to a camp in Ngala.
“Ngala, with 80,000 IDPs, is already stretched and you can imagine the situation if these thousands from Rann move in,” he added.
Robert said the effect of the attacks on the population in Rann was “worrying” and would likely hit operations.
“Access was very difficult already. The structures and warehouses of humanitarian organisations have been affected,” he added.
“People are extremely isolated. Services were already very basic. Even that emergency response is reduced.”
The U.N. has said some 260 aid workers have recently been forced to withdraw from northern Borno because of the fighting.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said in December 2015 that Boko Haram were “technically defeated” after a sustained counter-insurgency.
But on January 9 he acknowledged setbacks in the fight-back, including “battle fatigue” among soldiers from a wave of guerrilla style hit-and-run tactics and suicide bombings.
Buhari was elected in 2015 on a promise to end the conflict and security has again become an election issue as he seeks a second term in the presidential election on February 16. National Assembly elections will be held the same day, while regional polls are set for March 2.
With reporting from AFP