Sect unleashes multiple Nigeria attacks, kills 5
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) -- A radical Islamist sect has killed at least five security officials after the group unleashed multiple attacks in Nigeria's besieged northeast, police said Tuesday.
Police blamed the Boko Haram sect for the attacks on police and military targets in the city of Damaturu, which left at least three policemen and two soldiers dead. The sect claimed responsibility for a trio of deadly church bombings in the northern state of Kaduna on Sunday. Those attacks and the ensuing reprisal killings may have left at least 70 people dead, an official said.
The assailants started attacking police and military institutions in Damaturu late Monday, said Yobe State police chief Patrick Egbuniwe. Gunfire was ongoing Tuesday afternoon but had been restricted to pockets of the city, he said.
"Terrorists are trying to show that they can't be stopped," Egbuniwe said soon after the Damaturu attacks started.
Boko Haram's spiritual home of Maiduguri is about 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of Damaturu, the capital of rural Yobe state.
The Damaturu attacks have worsened an already tense security situation in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.
Sunday's attacks in the religious flashpoint state of Kaduna triggered reprisals which have left at least 70 people dead, a relief agency official involved in rescue efforts said Tuesday. The previous death toll was at 50, with at least 131 people wounded. The official spoke anonymously as he said he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in Hausa, is waging an increasingly bloody fight with Nigeria's security agencies and public. More than 580 people have been killed in violence blamed on the sect this year alone, according to an Associated Press count.
The sect, which speaks to journalists by telephone conference at times of its choosing, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Fatima Garba, a Damaturu resident who lives near government buildings, said she could hear gunfire Tuesday morning after it had prevented her and her family from going to sleep Monday night. She said at least two schools were burned in the attacks.
It was not immediately clear how many civilians have been hurt or killed in the Damaturu violence, said Ibrahim Bulama of the Nigerian Red Cross. He said the agency is waiting for the situation to calm down to send in rescuers.
Last November, the Islamist sect claimed responsibility for bombings and shootings that left more than 100 dead in and around Damaturu.
In that attack, a car bomb exploded outside a three-story building used as a military office and barracks, killing many uniformed security agents. Gunmen then went through the town, blowing up a bank and attacking at least three police stations and five churches, reducing them to rubble, officials said. Gunfire continued through that night and gunmen raided a village near the capital, killing more people.
Authorities have blamed Boko Haram for a string of attacks in Nigeria's northeast that persist despite a heightened security presence in the area and other parts of the country.
The northeastern states of Borno and Yobe and the central states of Niger and Plateau have been under a state of emergency since a Dec. 31 presidential pronouncement, meaning authorities there can make arrests without proof and conduct searches without warrants. President Goodluck Jonathan also ordered international borders near Borno and Yobe state to be closed.
The Yobe state government imposed a 24-hour curfew in Damaturu Tuesday in an effort to limit casualties. Damaturu had already been under a dusk-to-dawn curfew since the state of emergency was declared in December.
A series of curfews in recent months have highlighted the volatility of Nigeria's security situation.
A similar curfew was imposed Sunday in Kaduna state to curtail the reprisals triggered by the church attacks. On Tuesday, however, after the 24-hour curfew was relaxed to dusk-to-dawn, angry mobs took the streets once again, burning tires along the way, said Nigerian Red Cross official Andronicus Adeyemo.