An in-depth look at the shadowy group as violence continues to wrack the West African country’s northeast.
At least 90 people have been killed in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state by suspected members of Boko Haram, an armed group that wants to carve out a state ruled by Islamic law in the country’s north.
Witnesses said the fighters came into the village of Izghe, near the border with Cameroon, on Saturday night and killed the mostly Christian residents.
The attackers surrounded Izghe, spraying it with bullets, setting off explosions and burning down dozens of houses, chanting “Allah is great” as they shot dozens of villagers and slit the throats of others, the witnesses said.
Lawal Tanko, Borno state police commissioner, confirmed the reports but said he had no details of casualties.
Lawan Madu, a witness, told Reuters news agency that hundreds of residents had fled following the attack.
“They killed many, many people in the attack late on Saturday. From the latest information I have gathered, more than 60 people have been killed,” Maina Ularamu, a local government official, told AFP news agency from Abuja.
“They looted businesses and food stores and loaded all their spoils into vehicles owned by residents and fled into the bush.”
State of emergency
Ularamu, who was preparing to return to Maiduguri to deal with the fallout, said details of the attack had yet to be verified.
Survivors said they were among hundreds of people from Izghe and neighbouring villages who fled on foot through the bush in the night from Borno into Adamawa, two of three northeast Nigerian states under a state of emergency since May last year.
The air force began daily aerial bombardments on Wednesday near Izghe of suspected Boko Haram hideouts in the Sambisa Forest along the border with Cameroon.
Soldiers have moved in on foot following the bombing and at least nine troops and several fighters have been killed in a fierce hours-long battle, according to hospital and military sources.
Ularamu urged the military to deploy more troops, saying the soldiers were outnumbered and outgunned by the fighters, who were armed with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons as well as armoured cars looted during attacks.
Dozens more soldiers have been stationed in recent days in Madagali, a town about 30km from Izghe.
Hundreds of villagers in Borno fled to Maiduguri after Boko Haram fighters killed 43 people in two separate attacks last week.
The northern part of oil-rich Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country – is predominantly Muslim. The southern half of is mainly Christian.
Also on Saturday, armed men reportedly attacked a fishing village on Lake Chad, killing an unspecified number of residents.
A survivor said several residents had drowned in the lake while trying to escape the attackers.
Multinational task force
Mohammed Dole, a Nigerian military spokesman, confirmed the attack on the fishing village but declined to comment further.
He said the area fell under the jurisdiction of a multinational task force comprising troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad.
Boko Haram, whose literal translation is “Western education is forbidden”, has killed thousands of people in northeast Nigeria, killing Christians and Muslims indiscriminately, with frequent attacks on mosques and churches.
Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, ordered extra troops into the region in May to try to crush the group.
However, the fighters simply retreated into the remote, hilly Gwoza area bordering Cameroon, from where they have continued to mount deadly attacks that increasingly target civilians.
Jonathan faces an election in a year’s time, and the persistence of Boko Haram’s four-and-a-half-year-old insurgency despite a costly military operation against it remains a major headache.
He has voiced frustration with the progress of the operation, replacing his top military brass on January 16.