Boko Haram militants early on Saturday attacked another town in northeast Nigeria, pushing southwards in an apparent strategy to carve out an Islamist enclave in the remote north of Africa’s biggest economy, residents and local officials said.
Fighters from the group, which has taken over several northeast towns and villages in recent weeks, stormed Gulak in the northern part of Adamawa state, near the hilly border with Cameroon where the militants are thought to have bases.
An eyewitness to the attack, Sabo Lukas, who escaped to the Adamawa state capital Yola, told Reuters the militants had gone from house to house in Gulak shooting, and he had seen bodies of victims. He could not give an estimate for those killed.
“As am talking to you they are still there killing people,” Lukas said.
Tanko Wazumtu, an aide to Adamawa state Acting Governor Alhaji Ahmed Umaru Fintiri, also confirmed the attack, saying his own father was among those killed.
Nigerian military officials in Yola and in the federal capital Abuja did not respond to requests for comment.
Gulak is about 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Gwoza, a border town in neighboring Borno state seized by Boko Haram last month and where the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, proclaimed a “Muslim territory” in the northeast. Another town, Madagali, between Gwoza and Gulak, had already been attacked previously.
The Nigerian Sunni jihadist movement, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” and which has killed thousands since launching an uprising in 2009, is believed to be trying to mimic the example of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq which has proclaimed its own separate caliphate there.
Nigeria’s military says it is fighting to reverse Boko Haram’s recent gains, which have raised fears that the group may try to capture the Borno state capital Maiduguri. Air strikes have been launched against the militants
President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, which faces elections in February, has come under sharpening public criticism for its apparent inability to check Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency, which has ravaged the poor northeast corner of Africa’s biggest oil producer.
The group has also claimed shootings and bombings across the north and, more sporadically, in the federal capital Abuja and even in the southern commercial hub Lagos. The attacks have not reached the country’s strategic southern oilfields however.