MAIDUGURI – (AFP) – Boko Haram Islamists have stormed a neighbourhood in the restive city of Maiduguri, killing at least 11 people with weapons hidden in a coffin, local residents said Monday.
There were conflicting reports as to the number of people who lost their lives in the attack that began late Friday.
Information has been slow to emerge in the region because the mobile phone network has been shut down by the military amid an offensive aimed at crushing the Islamists.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa confirmed that gunmen launched attacks on Friday evening in the neighbourhoods of Hausari, Fizzan and Gwange.
Hausari resident Moh’d Aji said 10 attackers came in a pick-up truck, with a coffin visible in the exposed flat-bed rear.
“Everybody thought they were going for burial until they alighted from their vehicle and started bringing out their guns,” said Aji.
“They just opened fire into different directions.”
He said 11 bodies were recovered after the attack, including one child.
Another resident, Habibu Malud, said 13 people were killed.
The military spokesman said troops responded on Saturday morning, raiding insurgent “hideouts” in the targeted neighbourhoods.
“Five of the suspects died in a shootout as they attempted to flee,” Musa said.
It was not clear if the five dead reported by Musa were among the corpses spotted by residents.
Boko Haram fighters are known to blend in with the local population, and distinguishing between insurgent deaths and civilian casualties is typically difficult.
The group has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north.
The insurgency has left 3,600 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security services.
The military launched a sweeping offensive against Boko Haram on May 15 and has claimed successes, describing the Islamists as being in “disarray.”
But those claims have been impossible to verify and there are concerns that the insurgents may regroup once the military pressure fades.
There has been a lull in the number of reported attacks since the offensive was launched, but very little information has emerged from the northeast with the phone networks down.
The group has repeatedly carried out attacks in Maiduguri, their traditional base.
They were thought to have relocated to sparsely populated areas in Nigeria’s semi-desert northeast amid a crackdown in Maiduguri.
The ongoing offensive has been most heavily concentrated in these remote areas, particularly along the border with Cameroon.