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.
Attacks carried out in northeastern Nigeria over the past week are the latest in an upsurge of violence that has hit the region as elections for a new president and parliament approach next month. Amnesty International has indicated that one of Boko Haram’s attacks is the “deadliest massacre” in the history of the militant group’s insurgency while the United Nations reported on Tuesday that the latest wave of attacks have sent nearly 12,000 people fleeing into Chad in a matter of days. This increase in tempo of attacks is likely linked with the upcoming presidential elections, which are due to be held on 14 February.
New Wave of Violence
The week of violence began on 3 January, when Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Baga, in northern Borno state, in what is now believed to be the worst atrocity carried out in the militant group’s six-year campaign.
On the ground sources have reported that Nigerian soldiers stationed in Baga fled over the weekend as the militant group overran the town and the nearby Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) army base. The violence in the town continued during the week, with militants killing dozens of people and burning down homes. Local officials reported that Boko Haram insurgents began shooting indiscriminately and burning buildings in Baga late on Tuesday in raids that targeted the civilian population and continued into Wednesday. TV footage depicted scores of civilians on the outskirts of Baga as they waited to catch buses out of the town. Many were seen carrying the few possessions they were able to salvage, including bags of clothing and rolled up mattresses. On Friday, Nigerian forces, backed by air strikes, began fighting for control of the town. A statement released by Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency, disclosed “security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted airstrikes against militant targets.”
The town of Baga is of strategic importance to Boko Haram, as it is believed to be the last town in northern Borno still under the federal government’s control. The militant group, which has seized more than two-dozen towns in northeastern Nigeria in the past six months, now control all three of Borno’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. As a result, Boko Haram is now in a better position to launch attacks both in Nigeria, including targeting the key city of Maiduguri where thousands of civilians have fled to in recent months in a bid to escape the on going violence, as well as across the borders. Into Cameroon and Niger. It also means that the group has likely secured important supply routes for weapons and will now be able to enlarge its recruitment base in order to replenish its ranks. The capture of Baga also proves that the Nigerian government is far from being on top of the situation, and is a further defeat for the country’s military.
With Baga now under Boko Haram’s control, the militant group has effectively encircled Borno state capital Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was founded and which has been repeatedly attacks. It is highly likely that the militant group’s fighters will now begin to move inwards, targeting the remaining towns and villages in this encircled area before they attack Maiduguri, and southwards, in a bid to capture any remaining towns. According to Nigerian lawmaker Maina Maaji Lawan, Boko Haram now controls 70% of Borno state.
Worst Violence in Six-Year Insurgency
As news emerged that Nigerian forces were attempting to regain control of Baga, on Friday, Amnesty International suggested that last week’s attack on the northeastern town was the “deadliest massacre” in the Islamist militant group’s history.
On the grounds sources have reported that hundreds of bodies remain strewn in the bush in the area surrounding the town. District head Baba Abba Hassan has disclosed that most of the victims are children, women and elderly people who were not able to run fast enough when the militants drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the town’s residents.
A statement released by Amnesty International has indicated that there are reports that the town was razed and that as many as 2,000 people were killed. Daniel Eyre, Nigeria research for Amnesty International, stated that if these reports are true, “this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s on going onslaught.” Nigerian officials however have released contradicting numbers. On Monday, the defence ministry disclosed that the number of people who lost their lives in an assault by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga last week was no more than 150, adding that this figure included “many of the terrorists” who had attacked the town in Borno state and who had faced resistance by troops. The ministry has dismissed estimates that as many as 2,000 people may have been killed, stating that they were “exaggerated.” Reports by local civilians however have indicated that thousands were killed in this week’s bloodshed, with one local stating that the number may be as high as 3,000. Nigerian officials have in the past been accused of underestimating casualty figures in a bid to downplay the growing threat from Boko haram.
The previous bloodiest day in the uprising involved soldiers gunning down unarmed detainees who were freed in a 14 March 2014 attack on the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri city. At the time, officials at Amnesty International disclosed that satellite imagery indicated that more than 600 people were killed that day. According to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, in the last year alone, more than 10,000 people have been killed with more than a million people displaced inside Nigeria and hundreds of thousands fleeing across the country’s borders into Chad, Cameroon in Nigeria.
The number and scale of attacks has sharply risen over the past year, ever since the Nigerian government imposed emergency rule on the three worst hit states. Despite being heavily criticized for his failure to stem the on going fighting, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeing re-election, has blamed opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari for Nigeria’s ill-equipped army and their inability to tackle the growing threat. President Goodluck Jonathan, who condemned the attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris, has yet to comment on the latest violence at home.
Increase Use of Female Suicide Bombers
This past week’s attacks in northeastern Nigeria also included several attacks that involved suicide bombers.
At least four people were killed and twenty-one injured in the city of Potiskum on Sunday when two female suicide bombers, one of them aged about fifteen, blew themselves up in a crowded market. According to a security source involved in the investigation, “one of the bombers looked 23 and the other 15,” adding “the first bomber – the 23 year old – detonated her explosives just outside the entrance of the market, where volunteers were sweeping people going inside the market with metal detectors…the second bomber was terrified by the explosion and she tried to dash across the road but she also exploded.” Witnesses have reported that the second blast went off as people were fleeing the first blast. The market was filled with traders and shoppers from all over Yobe state and beyond at the time of the attack. The blasts, which took place at the Kasuwar Jagwal mobile phone market in the commercial capital of Yobe State, come just a day after a young girl, thought to be aged 10, killed nineteen people in Maiduguri in neighbouring Borno State. In a separate attack on Saturday, two people were killed when a car exploded outside a police station in Potiskum.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for these latest attacks however suspicion is likely to fall on Boko Haram, which has increasingly been using female suicide bombers to carry out deadly attacks.
Since June 2014, Boko Haram has increasingly been using young girls and women to carry out deadly suicide attacks across the northeastern region of Nigeria. In July, there were four suicide bombings carried out by females in one week in Kano. During the same month, a 10-year-old girl was found in Katsina state wearing a suicide vest. In December 2014, Zahra’u Babangida, 13, was arrested with explosives strapped to her body. She later told journalists that her parents had volunteered her to take part in a suicide attack in the city of Kano.
While older women may willingly become human bombs, as they either share the Islamists’ radical ideology or are out to avenge the death of loved ones who were killed by the Nigerian military, the young ages of some of the bombers, such as the girl in Maiduguri, suggests that coercion is likely being used by the militant group. A civilian vigilante who witnessed the Maiduguri bombing has stated that he doubts if the young bomber “…actually knew what was strapped to her body.” Meanwhile another eyewitness has disclosed that it appeared that the bomb was remote-controlled, which is inline with other testimony from other attacks across the wider north region of Nigeria.
Nigeria’s Government on Friday disclosed that it is “outraged and deeply saddened” after militants attacked a remote village in northeastern Nigeria and reportedly kidnapped around 200 people. While no group has claimed responsibility, the attack bore resemblance to past attacks carried out by Boko Haram militants, who abducted more than 200 women in April from a secondary school in Chibok, which is located 24 kilometres (15 miles) from this latest incident.
Boko Haram militants have kidnapped at least 185 people, including women and children, from a Nigerian village, with local sources reporting that civilians were forced away on trucks towards Sambisa Forest, which is known to be one of Boko Haram’s strongholds. The mass abduction, which was part of an attack that also killed thirty-two people, occurred Sunday in the village of Gumsuri, Borno state. While officials have not confirmed the number of those kidnapped, local sources have reported that the number is likely to increase in the coming days and weeks as many civilians return after having fled the area during the attack.
Details of the attack took four days to emerge as the mobile phone network in the region has completely collapsed and many roads are impassable. News emerged Thursday as many of the survivors reached the city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Two local officials and a vigilante leader also confirmed the attack, stating that the local government had established the number of those abducted by contacting families. Late on Thursday, government spokesman Mike Omeri released a statement, condemning the “deplorable act,” adding that it was currently “…impossible to verify the number of those missing at this early stage because it is presumed that many civilians fled during the attack.”
Gumsuri is located roughly 70 kilometres (43 miles) south of Maiduguri and is located on the road that leads to Chibok, where Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls. Boko Haram has been increasingly using kidnappings to boost its supply of child fighters, protesters and young women. It is believed that the schoolgirls kidnapped in Chibok are now being forced to carryout suicide bombings across northeastern Nigeria. In recent month, a number of deadly attacks have been carried out young female suicide bombers. The mass abductions in Chibok brought unprecedented attention to Boko Haram’s five-year uprising. Despite President Goodluck Jonathan vowing to end the conflict, the violence has escalated since April and Sunday’s attack in Gumsuri will likely cast further doubt on Nigeria’s ability to contain the crisis.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Cameroon, officials disclosed Thursday that troops have killed 116 Nigerian Boko Haram fighters in the far north. According to the defence ministry, insurgents attacked an army base in Amchide, which lies on the border with Nigeria, on Wednesday but were repelled by soldiers. Sources have reported that Boko Haram sustained heavy losses during the attack.
A statement released by the Cameroonian army disclosed “a column made up of a military truck and four pick-ups from the BIR (elite Rapid Intervention Battalion) were caught in an ambush that began with an explosion of a roadside bomb,” adding “at the same time… the Amchide military base was attacked by hundreds of fighters from the sect, but the response from our defence forces was instant and appropriate.” The statement further indicated, “there are 116 of the assailants dead on Cameroonian territory and undetermined casualties on the Nigerian territory from our artillery fire…there is one dead on the Cameroonian side and one officer missing.” According to the Cameroonian army, Boko Haram fighters destroyed a pick-up and a troop truck and managed to capture another military truck.
Boko Haram has increasingly threatened the northern region of Cameroon. While in the past, the militants have carried out repeated massacres of civilians and have attacked villages near the border with Nigeria, the militant group now appears to be increasingly targeting the military. It is believed that Boko Haram is seeking to replenish its military supplies in a bid to maintain power over the current towns and villages under its control and to seize further territory in northeastern Nigeria.
Boko Haram has been carrying out attacks with increased frequency and deadliness since the Nigerian military declared in October that the insurgents had agreed to a ceasefire. The recent wave of attacks across northern Nigeria have demonstrated the terrorist group’s continued abilities to strike at will in the region despite a state of emergency that was put in place to curb the group’s five year insurgency.
The most recent attacks attributed to Boko Haram occurred Monday in the northeastern state capitals of Damaturu and Maiduguri. At least five people were killed and 32 wounded when twin blasts targeted a crowded market in Maiduguri. The latest attack in the Borno state capital comes nearly a week after two female suicide bombers attacked the same market on 25 November, killing 78 people. Several witnesses reported Monday that two female bombers were responsible for the attacks. A separate attack in Damaturu, the capital of neighbouring Yobe state, began shortly after 05:00 local time (0400 GMT), with militants setting fire to a riot police base, and later attacking a primary school and the city’s university. On the ground sources reported that Boko Haram fighters, who have obtained most of their weapons by seizing them from the Nigerian army, appeared to be trying to gain access to military equipment stockpiled in the city.
Monday’s attacks on the two state capitals appear to be a continued acceleration of extremist violence in northeastern Nigeria, which in recent weeks has seen insurgents staging attacks on an almost daily basis. Over the past two weeks, attacks linked to Boko Haram have killed at least 220 people, with some experts indicating that the number is likely closer to 300. On Friday, at least 120 people were killed after three explosions occurred during prayer hours at one of the largest mosques in the city of Kano. Security officials believe that the Grand Mosque in Kano may have been targeted after one of Nigeria’s top Islamic leaders recently issued a call to arms to fight Boko Haram. On Thursday, at least forty people were killed after a bomb exploded at a bus station in Mubi, the second largest city in Adamawa state. While some of these attacks have yet to be claimed, Boko Haram is widely suspected to be responsible.
Boko Haram’s attacks and the recent seizure of several towns in northeastern Nigeria have killed thousands of civilians and forced many to flee, resulting in a massive displacement that is creating a humanitarian crisis in Africa’s most populous nation, and in neighbouring states. According to a report released by Human Rights Watch earlier this year, from January to June 2014, Boko Haram attacks killed at least 2,053 people. The recent escalation of attacks has also caused thousands to flee, with many seeking shelter elsewhere in Nigeria, or opting to cross the border in neighbouring Cameroon or Niger.
Earlier this month, the militant group seized a town in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state, killing nearly fifty people and forcing at least 3,000 people to flee to Niger. According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, since May 2013, at least 100,000 people have fled to Niger. Last month, Boko Haram seized control of the town of Mubi, in Adamawa state. That attack forced at least 13,000 people to flee to Cameroon. Continued violent attacks will only worsen the already fragile humanitarian situation in both Nigeria and in neighbouring states.
Boko Haram’s expanding threat and recent cross-border raids in Cameroon have demonstrated the militant group’s desires to expand their operations. Fears that Boko Haram fighters may soon target neighbouring states have prompted officials in Niger and Cameroon to close schools and health centres located along the borders with northern Nigeria over fears of attacks carried out by the Islamist group. Many civilians living in towns close to the porous border have opted to leave, seeking safety elsewhere.
The Nigerian government’s state of emergency, which was imposed in May 2013, has done little to curb the violence. The recent denial of a third extension of the emergency rule demonstrated that Nigerian MP’s, like Nigerian civilians, are becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation. The Nigerian government’s security strategy now remains uncertain while the tempo of Boko Haram attacks is likely to increase over the month of December as the holiday season approaches.
Reports emerged Friday that many people have been killed in three explosions that occurred during Friday prayers at one of the largest mosques in the Nigerian city of Kano. The attacks come a week after one of Nigeria’s top Islamic leaders issued a call to arms to fight Boko Haram.
According to on the ground sources, the Grand Mosque in Kano was targeted Friday by suspected Boko Haram militants. The blasts occurred as Friday prayers had got under way at about 2:00 PM (1300 GMT). According to one local, “two bombs exploded, one after the other, in the premises of the Grand Mosque seconds after the prayers had started,” adding “a third one went off in a nearby road close to the Qadiriyya Sufi order. The blasts were followed by gunshots by the police to scare off potential attacks.” Eyewitnesses have reported that at least fifty people were killed in the attack, however officials have not released any official figures. National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu confirmed that an attack had occurred in Kano however he noted that he was waiting for a briefing from officers at the scene and declined to comment further.
While Boko Haram has in the past targeted the city, which is the largest in northern Nigeria, several times during its five-year insurgency, most of its attacks have occurred in the eastern areas of the city.
The Grand Mosque is attached to the palace of the Emir of Kano, Nigeria’s second most senior Muslim cleric. The Grand Mosque is also where the influential Muslim leader usually leads prayers. The Emir, Muhammed Sanusi II, is currently in Saudi Arabia. Sources have reported that he arrived in Saudi Arabia late on Thursday night from Paris. Some have indicated that Friday’s attack on the Grand Mosque may be the result of comments made by the Emir last week in which he stated that northerners should take up arms against Boko Haram. In what are rare public comments by a cleric pertaining to political and military affairs, the Emir also cast doubts on the ability of Nigeria’s army to protect civilians and to end the five-year insurgency.
Friday’s explosions come after civilian vigilantes in the northeastern city of Maiduguri revealed that they had foiled a bomb attack against a mosque just five days after two female suicide bombers killed over forty-five people in the city. Civilian vigilantes have disclosed that they discovered a suspected remote-controlled device that was planted in the Gamboru Market area of the city. Sources have indicated that while the bomb was successfully diffused by the police bomb squad another bomb near the area exploded. There were no casualties and the area has since been cordoned off. Locals have reported that the bombs were likely planted ahead of Friday’s prayers, as there is a mosque located nearby. Many suspect Boko Haram militants to be behind this incident, which also come just days after several arrests were made. If Boko Haram confirms this incident, then it would demonstrate that it is evolving its tactics, as the use of concealed roadside bombs is not typically a method that the group has used. In the past, Boko Haram has used direct hit-and-run tactics, car bombs and suicide attacks to carry out its deadly campaign of creating an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria.