Attacks by suspected militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group left hundreds of people dead in villages in northeastern Nigeria, according to local officials.
Attackers, some disguised in military uniforms, raided three villages on June 3 using “sophisticated weapons” and “started killing from house to house,” Abba Aji Khalil, chairman of a local vigilante group set up to combat the militants, said by phone late yesterday. At least 400 people are suspected to have died in those attacks. he said. There was another raid last night on two more villages, and 47 bodies have been found so far, Khalil said today.
Yuguda Ndurvua, a local clergyman, said villages in the area “are being attacked almost on a daily basis.” The June 3 attacks may have been a reprisal for an ambush in those villages carried out by a local Christian militia on June 1, in which 37 Islamist militants were killed, according to Peter Biye, a lawmaker representing the area in the House of Representatives.
Boko Haram’s violent campaign to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, is attracting growing international condemnation, especially after the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April. Recent attacks condemned by world leaders are only the latest in a five-year conflict that has left thousands dead.
The U.S. is among several countries to send advisers and military personnel to help with the search for the missing girls.
President Goodluck Jonathan, whose government has come under fire for failing to crush the insurgency or prevent the kidnapping of the girls, has sought to highlight ties between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda, and call it a continent-wide threat. His critics say it’s mostly an internal Nigerian issue.
The vast majority of people Boko Haram has killed have been villagers in the majority-Muslim northeast, though the group has also carried out attacks in the capital, Abuja.
“When the attackers came, most residents thought they were military personnel,” said Ibrahim Ngalamuda, a resident of Attangara, one of the villages targeted on June 3, who survived the attack. “They said they were here to protect us and got people to gather in the center of the village before they opened fire.”
In a separate incident in the northeast today, an explosion at the governor’s office in Gombe state left at least three soldiers dead, according to Muhammad Auwal, an employee there. Kwadji Atajir, a police spokesman, confirmed that there was an explosion and said he couldn’t immediately give casualty figures.