, KANO, Dec. 3- Boko Haram militants in Nigeria on Thursday stormed a French-owned cement works for the second time in as many months, as they attacked two towns in northeast of the country.
The Islamists first struck in Bajoga, 60 kilometres (40 miles) from Gombe city, in a convoy of 20 vehicles before being pushed to Ashaka, where the plant owned by French group Lafarge is located.
Both raids came after an attack Monday on the Yobe state capital, Damaturu, to the north, which left more than 150 people dead including 38 police and six soldiers.
The latest raids suggested that Boko Haram fighters based in the Buni Yadi area of Yobe state may have been looking to replenish supplies.
In Bajoga, fighters raided banks and set fire to a police station, government buildings and political party offices. In Ashaka, they stole pick up trucks and medical supplies.
“The gunmen kept shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greater) and firing guns haphazardly. They went into the cement factory and took away some vehicles,” said Ashaka resident Samaila Adnan.
“They didn’t touch anyone.”
A staff member at the cement works, who asked not to be identified, confirmed Adnan’s account and said the factory was evacuated before the attack.
“Our fear was confirmed. They went into the factory and headed to the administrative building where company vehicles were parked,” he said.
“They took away several Hilux (four wheel drive) vans. They also went to the factory clinic and took away an ambulance along with drugs. They didn’t harm anybody.”
The same plant was attacked on November 4, when pick up trucks and large quantities of industrial dynamite used in mining were also taken.
The staff member said the explosives had been moved since the last raid and although the militants looked for more, they were unable to find any.
– Pattern of violence –
The Lafarge plant, set up in 1974, is the largest cement works in northern Nigeria. It employs about 500 people, including an unspecified number of expatriates.
The fighters were pursued by the military for five kilometres, from Bajoga to Ashaka, after three hours of fighting, which also included an air force jet that bombarded militant positions.
But Adnan said that after initial skirmishes in the town, the soldiers withdrew.
Gombe state has not been as badly hit by Boko Haram violence as Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states but there have still been a number of attacks blamed on Boko Haram.
On October 31, at least eight people were killed in a triple bomb blast at a bus station in Gombe city, while in June a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a barracks in the state capital.
That attack was the first by a female bomber in Nigeria and marked the first of a series of attacks by women and young girls across the wider north.
There have been two double suicide attacks in the Borno state capital Maiduguri in the last two weeks, while last Friday at least 120 were killed in a bomb and gun attack in Kano city.
Thursday’s attacks fit a pattern of almost daily violence by the Islamists, who have taken over more than two dozen towns in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa in recent months.
The militants’ tactics have evolved from hit and run strikes and suicide bombings to holding territory and conducting “logistical” raids for food, money and other supplies.
Boko Haram has frequently targeted banks for funds to buy weapons, while burning down police stations, government and political party buildings is a sign of their opposition to secular rule.