ABUJA - Reports are circulating that militants killed dozens of people in northeastern Nigeria during the weekend, most of whom were praying at a mosque. Some analysts said the insurgent group Boko Haram could be trying to warn civilians not to cooperate with authorities.
Locals say men in fatigues, but not Nigerian soldiers, attacked a mosque early Sunday in the town of Kanduga as people were praying. The reports said at least 44 people were killed. Locals said another attack in the village of Ngom killed at least 12. Officials confirmed the attacks happened outside of Maidguri, the original home of Boko Haram, but did not say how many people were killed.
Elizabeth Donnelly, assistant head of the Africa Programme for the London-based think tank Chatham House, said recent attacks are meant to show the public Boko Haram has not been conquered, despite thousands of soldiers being deployed in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno states, which are under emergency rule.
“With this current attack it is demonstrating its presence. It is flexing its muscles," Donnelly said. "It is showing that it still has the capacity to cause serious harm.”
But she also said the attacks do not necessarily mean that the Nigerian government is losing its war with insurgents. The region has been largely cut off from the rest of the country for the past three months, with cell phone lines and other forms of communications usually down.
Donnelly said the latest attacks show military claims to be crushing Boko Haram and Boko Haram claims to be growing stronger could each be true. “You are [seeing] heightened activity around Maiduguri because this is where the core of the group has now been squeezed and remains. Or if this thing actually-the state of emergency, is really going anywhere because, well clearly it is not delivering protection to civilians,” she stated.
Borno State officials said the attack could have been intended to scare people who may have been sharing information with security forces. One of the pillars of their current security policy is to gather intelligence from local residents.
Civilians have also formed vigilante groups with the support of Nigerian security forces. Usman Musa told a VOA reporter in Maiduguri his vigilante group went to Konduga after the mosque was attacked and fought with heavily armed militants, who killed four of Musa’s comrades.
A new video released shortly after the attack on the mosque and in the nearby town of Ngom shows Abubakar Shekau, the man believed to lead Boko Haram, claiming responsibility for recent deadly attacks and promising more.
He said his fighters are ready to not only conquer Nigeria, but also confront the United States. After he speaks, a shaky video shows men burning what looks like an armored vehicle with flat tires in the desert.
What sounds like gunshots can be heard and the camera pans to what appears to be some kind of aircraft flying over the smoky car.
Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths since 2009 in attacks on the government, churches, schools, mosques, markets, international organizations and media houses. In his video messages, Shekau said the group wants to impose Islamic law and rescue imprisoned members. But like their latest video, their real motivations have never been entirely clear to outsiders.
Abdulkareem Haruna contributed to this report from Maiduguri; Ardo Hazzad contributed to this report from Bauchi.