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Nigeria landmine blast kills 11 anti-jihadi militia fighters

Map of Nigeria
Map of Nigeria

Eleven militia fighters working alongside Nigeria's military to battle jihadis were killed Saturday in the country's northeast when their vehicle hit a landmine on a highway near the border with Cameroon, two militia sources told AFP.

Jihadis in Nigeria are increasingly resorting to planting mines on highways to target military and civilian convoys after they were pushed back from the territory they once controlled during the early years of the country's more than 15-year Islamist insurgency.

The militia fighters were escorting a civilian convoy from the town of Gamboru in Borno State to the regional capital Maiduguri when around 1230GMT their vehicle drove over a landmine suspected to have been planted by jihadis at Damno village, the two sources said.

"The rear tires of the vehicle carrying 13 of our comrades hit a wide pothole in which a landmine was buried, and it exploded," Shehu Mada, an anti-jihadi militia leader in Gamboru said. "Eleven people in the vehicle were killed while two escaped with injuries."

The victims were removed from the remains of the vehicle and returned to Gamboru for burial, said Usman Hamza, another militia leader who gave the same toll.

Nigeria's militant conflict has gradually eased in intensity as the military carries out offensives against the militants.

The Gamboru to Maiduguri highway is a strategic 140-kilometer (87-mile) trade route in the region and provides an important link with neighboring Cameroon.

The highway was reopened in July 2016 after it was shut by the military for two years due to incessant jihadi attacks.

Boko Haram and rival Islamic State West Africa Province still launch sporadic ambushes on convoys from their hideouts and plant landmines along the highway.

In January, 17 people were killed along the highway in two separate mine blasts that were blamed on jihadis. Ten more people were killed by a landmine in April.

Nigeria's grinding conflict has killed 40,000 and displaced around 2 million from their homes in the northeast since 2009. The violence has spilled over into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

The recent military coups in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and subsequent withdrawal of French and U.S. troops from the Sahel to Nigeria's north have heightened concerns over regional instability and violence extending farther into the coastal West African states.