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Boko Haram militants dressed as soldiers kill hundreds in Nigeria

Photo: AFP

Boko Haram militants dressed as soldiers slaughtered hundreds of civilians in four villages in northeastern Nigeria this week after the military failed to intervene despite warnings that attacks were imminent, witnesses said Thursday.


Some community leaders put the death toll from Tuesday's attacks in the Gwoza district of Borno state as high as 400 to 500 people, although an independent verification was not possible because of the poor communications infrastructure in the remote area.

If confirmed, the attacks in the villages of Goshe, Attagara, Agapalwa and Aganjara would be among the deadliest in the Islamists' five-year-long insurgency and top the more than 300 who were killed on May 5 in nearby Gamboru Ngala.

A community leader who witnessed the killings said residents of Gwoza government district had pleaded for the military to send soldiers to protect the area after they heard that militants were about to attack, but help did not arrive.

“We all thought they were the soldiers that we earlier reported to that the insurgents might attack us,'' said the community leader, who didn’t want to be named out of fear for his safety.

He managed to escape the massacre and fled to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

The militants arrived in Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, commonly used by the military, and told the civilians they were soldiers and that they had come “to protect you all” – the same tactic used by the group when they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a school in the town of Chibok on April 15.

After people gathered in the centre on the orders of the militants, “they began to shout 'Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar', then they began to fire at the people continuously for a very long time until all who had gathered were all dead'," said the leader. "Allahu akbar" means "God is great" in Arabic.

The slaughter was confirmed by both Mohammed Ali Ndume, a senator representing Borno whose hometown is Gwoza, and by a top security official in Maiduguri who insisted on anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the press.

It took a few days for survivors to get word of the massacres to Maiduguri because travel on the roads is extremely dangerous and phone connections are poor or non-existent.

Further massacres Wednesday

At least 42 people were killed Wednesday in the northeastern village of Bardari when gunmen in military uniform called the villagers together then opened fire, a police source told the Reuters news agency.

"The people couldn't identify them in time as terrorists," the source said.

The militants then fled, crossing a river and setting fire to houses in the neighbouring village of Kayamla, close to the regional capital Maiduguri, the source added

Nigeria's military has insisted that the big influx of troops and a year-old state of emergency in Borno and two other states has the Boko Haram insurgents on the run. But the soldiers on the ground have claimed they are outgunned and outnumbered by the insurgents, don't have bullet-proof vests, are not properly paid and have to forage for food.

Boko Haram, which wants to establish Islamic state in Nigeria, has been taking over villages in the northeast, killing and terrorising civilians and political leaders as they make a comeback from the year-long military offensive.

Thousands of people have been killed in the five-year-old insurgency, more than 2,000 so far just this year, while an estimated 750,000 Nigerians have been driven from their homes.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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