June 4, 2014

Scores dead as armed gunmen raid four Borno villages

KANO  (AFP) – Heavily armed gunmen raided four villages in northeast Nigeria leaving scores dead and sending survivors fleeing the attacks blamed on Boko Haram, a local lawmaker and residents said on Wednesday.

The 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.

“There were deadly attacks on these villages by Boko Haram insurgents who killed a large number of people and destroyed homes,” lawmaker Peter Biye, who represents the area in Nigeria’s lower chamber of parliament, told AFP.

“We are still trying to compile a toll of the dead as people on the ground are still counting the number of casualties.”

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 gunmen were armed with Kalashnikov assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

The entire village of about 300 homes was razed with several mosques, he added.

“We lost many people, including (civilian) vigilantes who tried to fight off the Boko Haram attackers. At least 100 people were killed,” said Goni, who fled to nearby Gamboru Ngala.

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 Borno on April 14.