Boko Haram sacks base, captures town in Nigeria

AFP, KANO, Nigeria

Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 4

Boko Haram militants were on Saturday in control of a town in northeast Nigeria after sacking a military base, in the latest attack that raises questions about claims they are weakened to the point of defeat.

Local officials and security sources said scores of fighters believed to be loyal to a Boko Haram faction backed by the Islamic State (IS) group overran troops in Gudumbali.

At least eight civilians were believed to have been killed, while thousands of others fled to neighboring towns.

Gudumbali, in the Guzamala area of Borno state, is Boko Haram’s first major seizure in two years and comes after a series of attacks on troops.

The authorities and the military have been encouraging people displaced by violence in the long-running conflict to return to Guzamala, insisting it is safe to do so.

However, aid agencies have said minimum levels of basic services, including shelter, civilian infrastructure and security are still lacking.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general, was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram and is seeking a second term of office at polls in February next year.

The Gudumbali attack will again raise questions about his claims to have “technically defeated” the group and that Borno State was now in a “post-conflict stabilization phase.”

An official of the Guzamala local government area, of which Gudumbali is the headquarters, confirmed that troops had been pushed out of the town and Boko Haram was in “full control.”

A military source in the state capital, Maiduguri, said the attack began at about 7:50pm on Friday and lasted until the early hours of Saturday, “when troops were forced to withdraw.”

“So far eight civilians, who were errand boys for troops, were believed to have been killed in the attack,” local civilian militia member Musa Ari said.

However, “most civilians were spared, because the attack was targeted at the military base,” he added.

The IS-backed faction — known as Islamic State West Africa Province — has vowed to hit only “hard” military or government targets.

It is reportedly trying to get the support of local populations in the Muslim-majority region.

Ari said soldiers and residents fled Gudumbali to Damasak, about 80km away, on the border with Niger.

Others escaped south toward Gajiram, where nine soldiers were killed in a similar attack in June.