DAKAR, SENEGAL — The Nigerian military says that about 200 gunmen, suspected to be members of the radical sect known as Boko Haram, raided a northeastern town Tuesday and killed 55 people, most of them police and prison officials, and set dozens of prison inmates free. This latest raid comes amid a surge of violence in the far northeast in the past month and accusations that the Nigerian security forces are responding by committing abuses against civilians.
Nigeria's Joint Military Task Force [JTF] says busloads of attackers armed with machine guns raided the northeastern town of Bama on Tuesday.
Officials say two soldiers, 14 prison officials and 22 policeman were killed during the multi-pronged attack. Three children and a woman who were burnt to death were among the civilian casualties.
The JTF spokesman for Borno State, Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, said gunmen attacking the town's prison cornered the guards in a windowless room and shot them at close range.
"All the officers on duty at the time of the attack were killed. They were running. There was a place where they were hidden, but the prison inmates exposed them and they were killed," said Musa.
He said the prison's 105 inmates all escaped.
Musa took journalists Tuesday to Bama, where he said attackers had burned down the magistrate court, a health center, a police station, police barracks and the local government secretariat. He said officials had recovered the bodies of 10 dead assailants. He said the majority of the attackers came in army uniforms "pretending to be soldiers."
This latest attack in the northeast comes as the Nigerian military struggles to shake off accusations that a government military raid in the northeastern town of Baga destroyed as many as 2,000 homes on April 16 and April 17 after Boko Haram attacked a military patrol, killing one soldier.
Local officials said the violence in Baga killed more than 200 people. The military put the death toll at 36 and said only 30 homes were destroyed. The Nigerian government has ordered a full investigation.
JTF spokesman Musa said Tuesday's raid in Bama was not the first time that attackers have worn what look to be military camouflage.
"Look at what happened in Baga, look at the way people are condemning us, and look at the way we are losing our lives," he said.
Boko Haram has not claimed responsibility for Tuesday's raid in Bama. But attacking prisons to free inmates, in particular detained militants, has become a hallmark of the radical Islamist insurgent group since its emergence in 2009.
Since then, Human Rights Watch says insurgency-related violence has killed 3,600 people in Nigeria.
Abdulkareem Haruna contributed to this report from MAIDUGURI, Nigeria.