At least 14 people were killed when Boko Haram insurgents attacked loggers in northeastern Nigeria, members of a militia force told AFP on Wednesday.
The group came under attack on Monday, February 18, in Koshebe forest, 10 km (six miles) from Borno state capital Maiduguri, militia leader Babakura Kolo said.
The assailants were loyal to Boko Haram faction leader Abubakar Shekau, he said.
“We have recovered a total of 14 bodies from the scene of the attack and we are still looking for four more,” Kolo said.
“We recovered nine bodies yesterday [Tuesday] and five more this morning,” said militiaman Mohammed Asheik, who was among the search team combing the bush for bodies.
Four other wood-cutters are missing and presumed killed, he said.
The loggers, who were in the forest to cut firewood, came from Lawanti village in Jere area, which the jihadists have previously targeted.
The bodies were scattered over a large area because the loggers were pursued and gunned down as they fled, said Kolo.
A security source told Sahara Reporters that at least 18 people were killed.
“Eighteen dead bodies were seen at the scene of the attacks, but as it is, only 10 dead bodies have recovered and evacuated so far by our security forces in conjunction with members of the Civilian Joint Task Force,” they said.
The Boko Haram jihadist group 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 Shekau, is notorious for suicide bombings and indiscriminate killings of civilians.
Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, but ISIS central only gives formal backing to the Barnawi faction, which is known as Islamic State West Africa province.
Both factions of Boko Haram have intensified attacks in the region over several months, but the upsurge in ISWA attacks has been much more serious. Amid signs of a takeover by more hardline leaders, the group has launched dozens of assaults on military targets in Borno and Yobe states in Nigeria.
Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted farmers, loggers and herders, accusing them of passing information on the group to soldiers and the pro-government militia fighting them.
In January, four farmers were killed by Boko Haram militants thought to be loyal to Shekau as they worked near Molai village, five km from Maiduguri.
On February 4, fighters thought to be from the Shekau faction of Boko Haram shot dead three goat herders near Tubba, around eight km (five miles) from Maiduguri.
Two days later, fighters believed to be from the Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau killed at least two soldiers in an attack on a military post near Banki, close to the border with Cameroon.
Boko Haram’s bloody insurgency began in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 but has since spread into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military response. Some 27,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.
The attack comes just days before Nigeria’s postponed presidential and legislative elections.
The week-long delay enforced by the electoral commission has been condemned by both President Muhammadu Buhari, who is standing for a second term, and his main opponent, former vice president Atiku Abubakar.
In the hard-fought presidential campaign, Atiku has seized on Buhari’s failure to defeat the group while the president has claimed the insurgency is weakening.
Buhari said in December 2015 that Boko Haram was “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.
With reporting from AFP