MAROUA, CAPITAL OF FAR NORTH - Cameroon is observing the end of Ramadan with its military on high alert following a spate of violent attacks by the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram. The violence has left at least 10 people dead and has included the kidnappings of an influential Muslim spiritual leader and the wife of Cameroon's vice prime minister.
Military helicopters fly overhead as Muslims gather in mosques to celebrate the end of Ramadan in Maroua. It is the same all along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria’s Borno State - home to Boko Haram militants.
Cameroon Army spokesman, Colonel Didier Badjeck, said they have stepped up surveillance and engagement operations.
He said they had extremely violent attacks over the weekend after large numbers of heavily armed Boko Haram fighters infiltrated the border through Lake Chad.
There have been at least three major attacks in as many days. In Kolofata, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked Saturday, shooting indiscriminately and seizing the town’s mayor and Muslim spiritual leader, Seini Boukar Lamine, his entire family and the wife of Vice Prime Minister Ahmadou Ali.
The military said there have been significant causalities among both soldiers and militants.
Kolofata resident Sawalda Gilbert fled after witnessing the attack.
He said it was inhuman, with dozens of people killed or kidnapped. He said he can’t understand what is happening and why Boko Haram can strike with impunity despite a heavily military presence and the governments of France, Cameroon and other Africa nations declaring war on Boko Haram. He is pleading for international assistance to help his country and military.
There is unity among residents in northern Cameroon - be they Christian or Muslim - that the violence must stop.
Reverend Maikano of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Maroua. He said what Boko Haram is doing is evil - killing, raping murdering and keeping people in fear. He said his message is that no one can kill in the name of God.
Cameroon has been plagued by spillover violence from Nigeria and the Central African Republic for more than a year. But there is concern that Boko Haram has intensified its efforts now in retaliation for the sentencing in a Maroua court this month of close to two dozen Boko Haram members to prison terms of 10-20 years.
Cameroon Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary went on state radio to assure the country of the government’s resolved to uphold the law and fight Boko Haram.
"This terrorist group, which is doomed to disappear, targets only widespreading of fear and psychosis within our population," explained Bakary. "The entire Cameroon people will never be trapped... On the contrary, the Cameroonian people will mobilize to defeat this terrorist organization whose evil intention is to jeopardize peace and stability in our country."
Tchiroma told VOA that the government has increased the number of troops deployed along the border to 3,000. And he said Cameroon security agencies are devising new strategies to combat Islamist militants in an “unconventional” conflict.
He said it will include increased cooperation from Nigeria. The government also called upon Cameroon’s neighbors, along with France and the United States to help battle terrorism inflicting so much collateral damage on Cameroon.