185 killed in weekend gunbattle in Nigeria

Borno (Nigeria), April 22 (IANS) At least 185 people were confirmed dead in a weekend crossfire between the military and Boko Haram sect in Baga, a fishing community located in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, according to military authorities.

Austin Edokpaye, commander of the Multinational Military Joint Task Force of Nigeria, Niger and Lake Chad, confirmed the casualty figures and said the attack began in the commercial border town of Nigeria and Lake Chad late Friday and continued till Saturday evening.

According to Edokpaye, insurgents near a mosque in the area opened fire on a military patrol team and killed an officer in the process.

“We’ve received an intelligence report that some suspected Boko Haram members usually pray and hide arms at a particular mosque in town. It was around that mosque that our men were attacked with several of them injured and an officer died,” he said.

“When we reinforced and returned to the scene, the terrorists came out with heavy firepower including RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) which usually has a conflagration effect,” he added.

Due to the conflagration caused by the RPGs used by the insurgents, more than 2,000 houses were razed in Baga Community which is on the fringe of Chad Basin, according to Musa Kabir, a local resident.

Kabir told Xinhua that more than 40 cars, 64 motorcycles and dozens of cattle were burnt in the wake of the attack.

“Residents fled the community and some hid in nearby bushes till Sunday. Many injured victims have been taken to hospitals in the city, while burial of dead victims, mostly old women and children, took place thereafter due to Islamic injunctions,” Kabir added.

Lt. Col. Musa Sagir, spokesperson of the Nigerian troops on Operation Restore Order (ORO) in Borno State, also confirmed the weekend tragedy to Xinhua, but failed to give further details on the attack.

Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State who visited the community Sunday to see the damage done by the attack was emotionally wrenched at the sight of charred houses, vehicles and how homeless residents took refuge in the bush.

Shettima pleaded with the residents to return to their burnt homes as a committee had been immediately set up by the government to provide a palliative compensation for the loss they suffered.

The weekend attack by the Boko Haram sect occurred barely 72 hours after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan Wednesday approved the constitution of a 26-member committee to constructively engage key members of the Boko Haram sect in fruitful dialogue and define a comprehensive and workable framework for resolving the crisis of insecurity in the northern part of the west African country.

Based in Borno State, the sect had claimed responsibility for several attacks in which more than 1,500 people, including women and children had been killed since 2009 when it launched violent attacks in northern Nigeria.

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