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Nigeria military: 24 Boko Haram members killed

A file screengrab taken from a video released on You Tube on April 12, 2012 apparently shows Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (C) sitting flanked by militants. AFP PHOTO / YOUTUBE

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria: Nigeria’s military said Tuesday 24 Boko Haram members were killed in violence that rocked the city of Maiduguri, as the extremists launched attacks with bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

“All the attacks were repelled. Twenty-four Boko Haram terrorists were killed,” a military task force in the city said in a statement.

The military has been regularly accused of abuses, including the killing of civilians.

The statement said there were no civilian casualties and one soldier was wounded, but the claims could not be independently verified.

The embattled northeastern city was in lockdown Tuesday following a spate of blasts and persistent gunfire in a neighborhood seen as a stronghold of the Islamist insurgents, residents said.

“It is terrifying,” said one resident of the Gwange area in the city. “We sat up the whole night because of gunshots and explosions. Everybody is inside because it is not safe to venture out.”

About a dozen explosions were heard in the area late Monday, with some reports suggesting a telecom mast and primary school were set ablaze.

Residents said the military then swarmed the area, engaging suspected Boko Haram Islamists in gunbattles through the night and into Tuesday.

The military task force said suspected Boko Haram members had launched attacks with guns, homemade bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

“The terrorists used civilian residences and homes as launching areas for the attacks at different times,” task force spokesman Sagir Musa said in a statement, adding that soldiers recovered a variety of weapons and that calm had returned to the neighborhood.

Musa also said that another bomb explosion occurred in a nearby neighborhood Tuesday morning, but there were no casualties.

Maiduguri is considered the base of Boko Haram, and security forces have alleged that Gwange and the surrounding districts are rife with insurgents.

Another resident of the area said he and his neighbors have “been indoors since yesterday evening.”

Suspected Islamists “were chased by soldiers through this neighborhood while the explosions and shootings continued through the night,” he said, like the other residents speaking only on condition of anonymity.

Maiduguri has seen dozens of deaths in recent days.

Last week, residents claimed as many as 30 people were killed during a rampage by soldiers after a bomb attack that left at least three troops dead in Gwange, although the military denied the allegation.

Maiduguri has been among the places hit hardest by the Islamists, but they have also struck across the country’s mainly Muslim north as well as in some central areas.

Security forces have responded with heavy-handed tactics to Boko Haram attacks, with Human Rights Watch reporting last week that Nigeria’s military may have committed crimes against humanity in operations aimed at crushing the insurgency.

According to the rights group, more than 2,800 people have been killed in the conflict since 2009. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous country, where most people in the south are Christian.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 17, 2012, on page 10.

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