, MAIDUGURI, Mar 14 – Suspected Boko Haram Islamists armed with explosives attacked a residential neighbourhood and a military barracks in Nigeria’s troubled northeastern city of Maiduguri on Friday, witnesses said.
Boko Haram, which says it wants to create a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has killed thousands of people in its four and half year uprising and the military has struggled to contain the violence.
According to multiple witness accounts, the gunmen entered Maiduguri after crossing a river on the fringes of the city.
They passed through the residential neighbourhood of Fauri, opened fire on civilians and torched several homes. Details on casualties were not immediately available.
An AFP reporter near the Giwa military barracks said the shooting there started shortly after 7:00 (0600 GMT).
The gunmen tossed explosives into the military compound, but it was not clear if they were able to force their way in, he reported, adding that smoke could still be seen billowing out of the barracks.
Area resident Dauda Mahmud said the Boko Haram gunmen “came in large numbers”.
“We have never heard such explosions in this city for a very long time,” he added.
Students at the University of Maiduguri reported hearing sustained gunfire throughout the morning.
The campus is near the barracks and it was not clear if the university was separately targeted.
“There have been several deafening explosions and unending gunfire for the past one hour,” said student Mercy Bitrus.
“The fighting is no doubt taking place near Giwa barracks which is very close to us because the sounds are coming from the direction of the barracks,” she added.
The name Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” and schools and universities have been repeatedly targeted during the conflict.
The military in Borno state, where Maiduguri is the capital, did not answer repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Human Rights Watch on Friday said Boko Haram has carried out more than 40 attacks already in 2014 which have killed roughly 700 people.