At least eight people were killed when jihadists attacked a northeast Nigerian town, prompting 8,000 to flee across the border into Niger, the UN said on Thursday.
Fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacked Damasak in Borno state on Wednesday, the fourth assault on the town since Saturday, military sources and residents said.
The UN refugee agency said eight people were killed and another 12 wounded, with preliminary reports showing 8,000 had reached the Niger towns of Chetimari and Gagamari.
“According to preliminary reports from our partners on the ground, the armed men also burned down several buildings, including a police station, a clinic, residences of local dignitaries and UNHCR’s Protection Desk,” it said. It said the full scale of displacement was still unclear.
Nigeria’s military has struggled for more than a decade to end a jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has also spilled over into neighboring Niger and Chad. At least 36,000 people have been killed and two million have been displaced in Nigeria alone.
Many residents had already fled Damasak towards the regional capital Maiduguri or into the town of Diffa across the Niger border following three previous attacks, but other residents decided to stay back.
On Wednesday, remaining residents in the town fled across the border when militants in several trucks fitted with machine guns engaged troops outside the military base in an attempt to overrun it, military sources and residents said.
In video clips sent to AFP by sources, hundreds of residents are seen on foot and on donkeys moving along a bush path, laden with personal belongings, as they escape from Damasak.
The insurgents had attacked the town on Saturday and Tuesday, destroying humanitarian facilities and killing at least four people, including a soldier.
Late on Tuesday, the jihadists stormed Damasak, burning a divisional police station after a failed attempt to raid the base, residents and military sources said.
Damasak has repeatedly been targeted by ISWAP militants who have sought to overrun the military outpost outside the town.
ISWAP, which split from the jihadist group Boko Haram in 2016, has become a dominant threat in Nigeria, attacking soldiers and bases while killing and kidnapping civilians.
President Muhammadu Buhari‘s security forces are battling on several fronts, including the northeastern jihadist conflict, criminal kidnap gangs in the northwest, and a surge in separatist attacks in the southeast.