, MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Mar 6 – Boko Haram fighters killed 68 people, many of them children, in northeast Nigeria, as militants began amassing in the strategic town of Gwoza against a possible fight-back by military forces.
The atrocity in Njaba, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, happened at dawn on Tuesday and also saw attackers raze the village, witnesses and vigilantes said.
Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger last month began a joint operation against the Islamists, who have captured swathes of territory in the northeast and also begun cross-border attacks.
Since then, the military has claimed the recapture of several key towns, including Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, where hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed.
On Thursday, Nigeria announced that troops were now in “full control” of Mafa, some 50 kilometres east of Maiduguri, “after completing the operation to clear terrorists from the town”.
There was no independent verification of the claim.
But experts have said that with Boko Haram pushed out of its strongholds, deadly violence will continue, especially in remote areas and through suicide bombings in towns and cities.
– Slaughtered or shot –
Njaba village is 20 kilometres from the town of Damboa, which was seized by Boko Haram last June, forcing thousands to flee, but later recaptured by troops helped by local civilian vigilantes.
One woman, Falmata Bisika, 62, lost four of her grandchildren in the latest attack, which she said was carried out by gunmen “armed to the teeth” with weapons and explosives.
The militants destroyed homes and businesses with petrol bombs and shot anyone attempting to flee, “especially teenagers and the elderly”, she said.
Muminu Haruna, 42, said he hid in a grain silo behind his house with about eight other people until the gunmen left at about 1:00 pm.
“I participated in the counting of dead bodies… 68 people were killed,” he said in an account supported by two civilian vigilantes.
“These included both males and females, some were slaughtered and others shot dead and most of the houses in our village have been destroyed.”
Haruna said the villagers had expected the attack, as other localities nearby have been targeted and because the village is en route from militant bases in the Gwoza forest and mountains.