Possibly up to 500 people may have been killed in a suspected Boko Haram attack on four villages in northeast Nigeria, a local lawmaker and residents said on Thursday.
Community leaders put the death toll in Tuesday’s attacks in the Gwoza district of Borno state as high as 400 to 500 but there was no independent confirmation because of poor communications in the area.
Lawmaker Peter Biye told news agency AFP: “The killings are massive but nobody can give a toll for now because nobody has been able to go to that place because the insurgents are still there. They have taken over the whole area.”
Heavily armed gunmen dressed as soldiers arrived in all-terrain vehicles and on motorcycles and attacked Goshe, Attagara, Agapalwa and Aganjara in the Gwoza district of Borno state, late on Tuesday.
Many residents fled across the border into neighbouring Cameroon, as soldiers were deployed to fight the Islamists, who took over at least seven villages, Biye added.
“Boko Haram have hoisted their flags in at least seven villages in the area which they now claim to be under their control,” said the lawmaker. Military jets bombarded Boko Haram positions in the affected area to try to flush out the insurgents, he added.
Communications in the remote border region are difficult, in part due to destruction of mobile phone towers by the insurgents. News of attacks is usually slow to emerge while independent verification of death tolls is difficult. Abba Goni, who lives in the mainly Muslim village of Goshe, said the entire village of about 300 homes was razed with several mosques.
In the predominantly Christian village of Attagara, homes and a church were also set on fire while dozens of residents were killed, according to Bulus Yashi, who also escaped to Gamboru Ngala.
“It was a reprisal attack over the casualties Boko Haram suffered in the village in two previous attacks,” he said. On Sunday around a dozen gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on a church in the village killing nine worshippers. But residents mobilised and pursued the attackers, killing four and arresting four others, he added.
Villagers had also repelled an attack on the village on May 25, killing seven Boko Haram gunmen, he said. “We believed they came on a revenge mission,” he said.
Boko Haram Islamists have recently stepped up raids in northern Borno state near the borders with Camerron, Chad and Niger, pillaging villages, looting food stores and killing residents.
The attacks are generally seen as response to villagers forming civilian vigilante groups against Boko Haram, who in turn accuse the villagers of helping the Nigerian military’s counter-insurgency.
The group, which wants to create a hardline Islamic state in northern Nigeria and has killed thousands since 2009, kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in Adicho, Borno on April 14.
Though the Nigerian military says it knows where the girls are being held, they have not yet been rescued in part, says the army, because of the risk of the students being killed in crossfire. (AFP)