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Boko Haram Launches Attacks on Key City as it Approaches Maiduguri

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Boko Haram militants launched an attack on a key city in northeastern Nigeria on Sunday, just hours ahead of a visit by the United States Secretary of State.

A curfew, which was imposed in the northeastern city of Maiduguri over the weekend “to enable security personnel to carry out their operations,” was lifted Monday as the state governor urged residents to stay and fight. Borno state’s capital was on lock-down since Sunday morning, when Boko Haram militants launched dawn raids on two neighbouring towns that were later repelled by the Nigerian military. Nigerian Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman confirmed, “the curfew imposed on Maiduguri has been lifted as from 6:00 am (0500 GMT). People can go about their legitimate business.”

On Sunday, Nigeria’s military fought Boko Haram militants near the restive northeastern city of Maiduguri as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived to discuss fears about election-related violence. Militants launched a raid at dawn, attacking the village of Jintilo, which is located on the outskirts of the Borno State capital. The attack prompted Nigerian soldiers to respond with heavy weaponry and airstrikes as Maiduguri was placed on lock-down. At the same time, militants attacked the town of Monguno, located about 65 kilometres (40 miles) from the fishing town of Baga. Boko Haram overran the town and captured a military barracks; a significant gain for them as according to a source, the fall of Monguno not only removes the last military base to Maiduguri, but “…also gives Boko Haram a free run into the key city.” The attack on Monguno and Jintilo was also likely driven by a need for food, fuel, medicine and other essentials and has allowed the militant group to restock their weaponry ahead of a possible regional counter-insurgency operation. It is believed that the militants may launch a fresh strike on Maiduguri from Monguno, which is located about 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of the state capital. The military high command in Abuja reported Monday that “scores” of Boko Haram fighters had been killed.

While in recent months, fears have been growing about a large-scale attack on Maiduguri, as the militant group has captured swathes of territory in Borno state, the renewed violence has further underscored the extent of the difficulties facing the African nation as it attempts to put a solution in place that will enable hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the on going violence to vote in next month’s presidential elections. The attacks also came a day after President Goodluck Jonathan visited Maiduguri, where he again vowed to end the militant group’s six-year insurgency.

Amnesty International reported late Sunday that civilians in the city and in the surrounding areas are now “at grave risk,” calling for their “immediate protection.”  Many civilians caught in Sunday’s violence are people who had previously been displaced to Monguno and Maiduguri after Boko Haram militants stormed Baga on 3 January.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Nigerian financial capital Lagos on Sunday, and headed straight to hold separate meetings with President Jonathan and the main opposition’s presidential candidate, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. He is expected to address poll-related violence, which has marred past elections in Nigeria, as fears increase that violence could erupt again, given the closely fought race. During Nigeria’s last presidential elections in 2011, some 1,000 people died during protests held in central Nigeria. While both President Jonathan and Buhari recently signed a non-violence agreement, this has not stopped the sporadic outbreaks of violence that have erupted between supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). Despite the on going insurgency in the northeastern region of the country, the US has pressed for the elections to go ahead, with Washington expecting free, fair and peaceful elections. One US official has stated, “this election in Nigeria is being watched by the entire continent and in fact by the entire world.”

Kerry’s visit to Nigeria, the first by a US secretary of state since Hillary Clinton in 2012, was announced on Friday during a speech in which Kerry warned of the dangers posed by Islamist extremists worldwide. Kerry recently described the attack on Baga as a “crime against humanity” while the US has warned of the threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty posed by the militants. According to a senior official, Kerry will raise the issue of the insurgency with both of the candidates, adding “we have been working very, very closely with the government of Nigeria to address Boko Haram, and I can say very clearly that no country has done as much as we have to support Nigeria’s efforts….And we would hope that both candidates will be able to address the insecurity and address Nigeria’s response to Boko Haram.” US involvement in Nigeria has been filled with criticisms particularly with the Nigerian government’s slow response to the mass abduction of 276 girls from the town of Chibok in April 2014. While US drones were deployed to the area, and the Pentagon dispatching intelligence and surveillance specialist, the whereabouts of 219 teenagers remain unknown. Furthermore, both countries have accused one another of a lack of attempting to end the insurgency. Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield has accused Nigeria’s military of being in denial of the threat posed by Boko Haram, which over the past six moths has captured dozens of towns and cities in the northeastern region of Nigeria. Abuja recently ended a US training programme for soldiers fighting the militant group. Meanwhile Nigeria’s ambassador to Washington has accused the US of failing to provide the weaponry necessary to end the rebellion. Furthermore, despite massive defence spending, which accounts for some 20 percent of the federal budget last year, Nigerian troops have on several occasions reported lacking the right weapons and equipment to tackle the militants.

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