Boko Haram’s Islamic State-backed faction on Saturday claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, just hours before voting began in the country’s presidential and parliamentary election.
The self-styled Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) said in an online post that it fired “10 missiles” at military positions in the city and the airport.
The group has in recent months been blamed for or claimed a series of attacks against troops, seizing weapons, ammunition and other hardware, raising fears about a resurgence.
A security source said: “Boko Haram terrorists attempted to enter the city but were intercepted. They resorted to firing RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) on the city.”
A second source said one of the explosions occurred at the headquarters of the Nigerian Army 7th Division as troops were preparing to go out on operations.
“One soldier was killed and 20 were injured. There were other explosions at Maimalari barracks but there was no casualty,” he added.
Three shells fell into an open rice field in the Teachers Village camp for people displaced by the conflict but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
It was not clear what type of “missiles” were used but analysts tracking the conflict suggested it may have been a multi-barrel rocket launcher seized in a previous attack.
Airport authorities said they had no reports of damage and the army denied there had been any attack. Borno state police also said there had been no attack.
But commissioner Damien Chukwu later acknowledged there had been “sporadic artillery shots”.
“The shots which were fired probably with a view to weaken the security forces so as to give the insurgents easy access to disrupt the elections,” he added.
There have been growing fears of a major Boko Haram attack in the run-up to the election, given the jihadists’ previous pledges to disrupt the poll.
Maiduguri is the birthplace of Boko Haram and has been repeatedly attacked during its nearly 10-year insurgency, which has devastated the remote region.
– Wave of attacks –
Voters cast their ballots in presidential polls, with incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general who has vowed to defeat the jihadists, seeking a second term.
At about the same time as they attacked Maiduguri, fighters attacked Geidam, north of the Yobe state capital Damaturu, but were repelled by troops who were alerted by locals, security sources said.
Further clashes erupted in Auno and Goniri, on both sides of the border between Borno and Yobe.
Elsewhere in Borno, which has been worst hit by the conflict, Boko Haram fired rockets at the town of Gwoza, injuring three people and partially damaging a mosque.
There was also an attack late on Friday on Zabarmari village, 10 kilometres (six miles) outside Maiduguri.
In the Borno town of Gamboru, on the border with Cameroon, Chadian troops in about 50 vehicles, including tanks, arrived at about 11:30 am on Saturday, while voting was in progress.
The Chadians are part of the regional force fighting Boko Haram. N’Djamena said on Friday night it had deployed more than 500 soldiers to support their Nigerian counterparts.
Boko Haram’s insurgency in northeast Nigeria has killed more than 27,000 people and left 1.8 million homeless, creating a humanitarian crisis.
But the government and military have repeatedly said the jihadists are weakened to the point of defeat, despite persistent hit-and-run raids and suicide bomb attacks.