We perish because we know not… #TLENews
Militants from Nigeria’s Boko Haram have attacked Maiduguri, the biggest city in the country’s northeast, with residents reporting heavy gunfire and shelling from early on Sunday morning and dozens of combatants said to have been killed.
The military imposed a curfew and set up roadblocks, as well as launching air strikes against the Islamic insurgency’s fighters.
Amnesty International warned that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have fled fighting from neighbouring areas and are living in makeshift camps, were at “grave risk” from Boko Haram’s latest salvo.
“People in and around Maiduguri need immediate protection,” Netsanet Belay, the group’s Africa Director, said. “If the military doesn’t succeed in stopping Boko Haram’s advance they may be trapped with nowhere else to turn.”
Boko Haram, which means Western Education is Sinful, is fighting to impose its strict version of Shariah law across Nigeria, whose population of about 170 million is divided almost equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.
Maiduguri is the capital of Borno state and would be a major prize for the insurgents, who already control large areas of the state along with neighbouring states and key border crossings into neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Earlier this month, the group took control of the town of Baga by Lake Chad and a multinational army base there, killing as many as 2,000 people in the process.
Four days ago, Abubakar Shekau, its self-styled “emir”, released a video in which he revelled in the bloodshed and challenged the “Kings of Africa”: “attack me even now: I’m ready”.
The latest assault is reported to have begun on the town of Monguno, 85 miles north of Maiduguri, and just over 30 miles from Baga.
Amnesty said it had received reports that gunmen attacked a military base at Jintilo village, just over three miles outside Maiduguri, at 6am on Sunday.
Rachel Adamu, who lives in Maiduguri, told Reuters: “Please pray for us, we are in danger, under serious attack now.”
Security sources told the same news agency they had prevented an attack on Maiduguri’s army and air force base which is also the area’s civilian airport.
But others said the military had been overwhelmed by Boko Haram’s firepower in Monguno, where houses were being set on fire as they were in Baga.
“Boko Haram has more power than us and are shelling the town … our colleagues are fleeing,” a soldier in Maiduguri said friends fighting the insurgents in Monguno had told him.
The Associated Press quoted an officer involved in the fighting as saying that the insurgents attacked on three fronts at once, and he had seen dozens of them killed.
A hospital worker told the agency they were treating dozens of wounded soldiers.
Amnesty appealed to all parties to avoid fighting near hospitals, and to allow civilians wishing to leave Maiduguri to do so. “A failure to protect residents of Maiduguri at this time could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis,” Mr Belay said.
The attack will further embarrass Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, who is seeking re-election next month and visited Maiduguri last week but has faced criticism for an underwhelming response to the growing insurgency.
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, is due to visit Lagos this week and expected to raise concerns with Mr Jonathan about violence around the elections on February 14.