Boko Haram militants have killed at least 21 people in attacks near the northern Nigerian village of Chibok close to where the rebels abducted more than 200 schoolgirls last year, according to reports, as the radical Islamist group steps up its violent campaign ahead of national elections. The group’s nearly six-year insurgency has ravaged wide swaths of northern Nigeria, and the inability of the Nigerian security forces to quell the violence has turned into a major election issue.
The rebels were fleeing a land and air offensive to clear them out of the Sambisa forest when they raided the villages of Gatamarwa, Makalama, and Layhawul and opened fire on terrified residents. Boko Haram fighters in many parts of Nigeria and the region are on the run, after being subjected to a major military offensive on all sides by Nigeria and its neighbours Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
Chibok was thrust into the public consciousness last April, when Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls there. The abduction prompted a viral Internet campaign under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Nigeria’s military said Thursday that airstrikes hit Boko Haram bases in the northeast and killed a “large number” of militants. Air force jets targeted training camps and weapons dumps in the Sambisa Forest and the town of Gwoza, two Boko Haram strongholds, a military statement said.
The claims could not be immediately confirmed. The statements themselves are hard to verify due to fighting and the disruption of mobile phone service in much of the northeast. Fighting has also intensified in the past month, after Niger, Chad, and Cameroon all began deployed larger forces against the militants.
The girls remain in captivity, but recent military successes against Boko Haram would likely play in his favour. His rival for the presidency, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, is seen as tough on security.
The plight of the Chibok girls has become symbol of the devastating toll the Boko Haram insurgency has exacted on defenceless civilians, who have been massacred in their thousands. The crisis has also spawned more than a million internal and external refugees, who have trekked through deserts, crossed rivers and hidden in forests to escape to the relative safety of ever swelling refugee camps.
Witnesses said Boko Haram fighters burned down much of a town in Borno state (Askira Uba) on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, bombs went off at three locations around Nigeria, causing dozens of casualties. The group has killed thousands in the past five years in attacks on schools, towns, markets, churches, mosques and government targets.
[Image via ibitimes]