Nigerians flee as air strikes target Islamists

Parts of northeast Nigeria imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Saturday as residents fled air strikes targeting Boko Haram strongholds. US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned the military to use "discipline" in its offensive against Islamists.


Residents of northeastern Nigeria were fleeing their homes on Saturday as military jets and helicopters launched air strikes on Islamist strongholds.

The Nigerian military has imposed a round-the-clock curfew in a dozen neighbourhoods of Maiduguri, the home base of the Boko Haram militants that are now the target of a large-scale military offensive.

Nigeria deployed several thousand troops targeting Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states this week after the Islamists seized the territories and ousted the local government administration. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in all three states on Tuesday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that he was "deeply concerned about the fighting in northeastern Nigeria" and urged the Nigerian security forces to "apply disciplined use of force in all operations".

Nigeria's military has been accused of human rights violations in the past, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Dozens of insurgents have been killed in the fighting, the military has said.

Boko Haram's traditional base of Borno is expected to see the most intense fighting. In the Marte district, some residents have started fleeing east towards the border with Cameroon, less than 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) away.

"Fighter jets and helicopters kept hovering in the sky and we kept hearing huge explosions from afar," Buba Yawuri told AFP. Yawuri fled from his home in Kwalaram to the border town of Gomboru Ngala.

He said that as the air assaults began, the security forces told all residents to stay indoors, cutting off access to food and water.

The phone network in Borno state has all but collapsed but phone service from Cameroon has been sporadically available in border areas.

The military has now sealed previously unguarded crossings to block Boko Haram fighters from fleeing. The remote region is a porous frontier where criminal groups and weapons have flowed freely for years.

Reports of Boko Haram's presence in Cameroon first emerged in February, following the kidnap of a French family visiting a game park near the Nigerian border.

The abduction was claimed by Boko Haram and the family arrived back in France in April.

The latest military campaign could prove to be the biggest ever against Boko Haram and is believed to be the first time Nigeria has carried out air strikes within its own territory in more than 25 years.

Boko Haram has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north. The al Qaeda-linked group has been blamed for a series of deadly attacks since 2009 that has left more than 3,000 people dead.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


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