More than 60 people are feared to have been killed in clashes between Boko Haram jihadists and a rival Islamic State-aligned group in Nigeria, anti-jihadist militia and locals said Monday.
Fighting raged from Friday to Saturday when Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attackers ambushed a fleet of Boko Haram boats in Lake Chad which straddles Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad, the sources told AFP.
Those on board included fishermen and Fulani women abducted by Boko Haram fighters, the sources said.
The two jihadist groups are locked in a fierce battle for supremacy, with frequent deadly clashes since ISWAP broke away in 2016 to become the dominant group.
The infighting escalated following the death of Boko Haram’s leader in 2021 during clashes in his Sambisa forest stronghold.
His successor refused to surrender and escaped to Lake Chad islands with his fighters.
“The fighting started around 4:00 pm (1500 GMT) and continued into Saturday morning in which nine Boko Haram boats and all the fighters inside were sunk,” said Ibrahim Liman, leader of an anti-jihadist militia in the region.
“Saying 60 people died in the attack is an understatement. If nine boats are sunk, it means the death toll far exceeds 60, no doubt. We know how the insurgents fill boats when going on a mission.
“And taking into account the dozens of people abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents that were also onboard, one can imagine how huge the number is,” Liman said.
He added that “ISWAP captured eight Boko Haram fighters while a few boats escaped” from the attack at Kaduna Ruwa islet.
Abubakar Alka, from the community where the fishermen were abducted, said it was a “conservative estimate” that 60 people were in the boats that sank.
Kabiru Habu, another militia leader, said: “There is no definite toll from the fighting but the number is obviously more than 60.
“Nine boats with their occupants sank. Even if each boat was carrying 10 people, the number is close to 100. We know insurgents load their boats when going for operations.”
The jihadist conflict in northeastern Nigeria has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced around two million since 2009.
Two weeks ago, Boko Haram fighters sailed from their camps in neighboring Niger to Doron Baga island on the Nigerian side of the lake and “terrorized” residents, said fisherman Sallau Arzika from the nearby town of Baga.
They captured a large number of fishermen and at least eight women from a Fulani herding community, Arzika said in an account supported by Labo Sani, another fisherman.
Both sources said the captives were killed in the fighting over the weekend.
The two jihadist factions engaged in weeks of fighting starting in February for control of islands in the lake, with huge casualties on both sides.