Nigerian authorities have imposed a 24-hour curfew in the northeastern city of Maiduguri after an armed group attacked an air force base and army sites overnight, the military has said.
Hundreds of rebel fighters in trucks and a stolen armoured personnel carrier attacked the base and army sites before dawn Monday, officials said.
Two helicopters and three decommissioned military aircraft were “incapacitated” in the attack, said a statement from Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, the Ministry of Defence spokesman. He said some army bases also were hit.
At least 24 fighters and two air force personnel were killed during the attack AFP reported, but further casualties remain unconfirmed.
The state government quickly ordered everyone to stay home and extended a night-time curfew to 24 hours in the city near the airbase which is also the birthplace of the extremist Boko Haram movement.
Explosions and gunfire could be heard across the city from around 2.30am when the group launched the attack with screams of “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.”
Government and military officials said scores of people may be dead.
Civilians living around the military base said they saw bodies with slit throats and corpses of armed fighters burning in vehicles.
Olukolade said security forces are pursuing the attackers and urged citizens to report any fleeing fighters who could be identified by gunshot wounds.
One military officer put the number of attackers at about 500 though it was unclear how such a large convoy could move undetected at night in an area under curfew.
However, there have been reports of armed fighters seizing military vehicles and arms at the scenes of other attacks and witnesses have said they sometimes wear the same military fatigues as the Nigerian army.
The attack comes a week after the military bombarded forest hideouts of the Boko Haram network near the border with Cameroon with air strikes and ground assaults.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in May in three states, acknowledging the fighters had seized control of many towns and villages, and flooded the area with security forces.
The uprising began in 2009 and has killed thousands and threatens the security and cohesion of Africa’s biggest oil producer and its most populous nation, with more than 160 million people, divided between the mainly Christian south and the predominantly Muslim north.