Originally published in World Watch Monitor
Suspected members of the radical Islamic group Boko Haram have taken over Gwoza, a major town in Nigeria’s north-eastern State of Borno on August 5.
Details of the attack are sketchy; several bridges linking the town to Borno’s capital, Maiduguri, and to other neighbouring areas were blown up in previous attacks, and telephones lines have been cut.
Peter Biye, a Member of Parliament representing Damboa, Chibok and Gwoza, told World Watch Monitor that at least 100 people were killed. The attackers, he said, “came in mass’’ dressed in army uniforms and loaded on about 15 vans, motorbikes and other vehicles, around 5 p.m.
‘‘They chased away everybody, firing indiscriminately and killing dozens,” Biye said. “Unfortunately, we lost a prominent church leader, Pastor Musa Ayuba, from COCIN Church.”
The COCIN, or Church of Christ in Nations headquartered in the nation’s capital city, confirmed Ayuba’s death. He was in charge of a church in Guduf, a small community east of Gwoza Town. He was killed while trying to run away from the assault.
The assailants burned down a yet-uncounted number of churches, shops, houses and government buildings. Hundreds of residents escaped to the surrounding mountains. The whereabouts of the town’s traditional ruler, the newly installed Emir of Gwoza, Mohammed Timta, are still unknown. His father and predecessor, Shehu Mustapha Idris Timta, was killed May 30 by Boko Haram assailants.
Biye said army troops stationed in Gwoza provided little resistance to the militants, who brought sophisticated weapons, including an armoured vehicle.
‘‘The army used to come monthly to their headquarters in Gwoza and go back to Maiduguri,” Biye said. “Unfortunately, on Monday they left behind about 150 soldiers there, but those soldiers were outnumbered by the insurgents. The army has to run away because of the sophistication of militants’ weapons.’’
The insurgents have raised their black and white flags over Gwoza’s buildings.
On July 21, Boko Haram overran Damboa, another major town in this densely populated region, killing hundreds and displacing more than 15,000 people, according the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency. The army has since driven Boko Haram out of Damboa.
Fear and uncertainty
Biye said such victories for the Army are the exception.
‘‘Actually, in our region, the army is losing the ground,” he said. “Residents are very disappointed and have lost hope. The situation is so bad that is you see them (insurgents) coming, and the army are running, and the villagers are running either. Then who is going to protect us?’’
Boko Haram, based in the north-eastern state of Borno, has intensified its deadly campaign in recent days, targeting several Christian places of worship.
On July 30, at least five churches were razed as militants stormed Kwajaffa, Tashan Alade and other communities in the predominantly Christian Hawul Local Government Area of southern Borno State. The attack, carried out with improvised explosive devices and petrol bombs, was the second on the Hawul area in less than a week.
Kano, the commercial nerve center of northern Nigeria, has sustained four suicide bomb attacks in less than a week. First, on July 27, female suicide bomber blew herself up in St. Charles Catholic Church, just after Mass in Sabon Gari, a Christian enclave of Kano. The area has been targeted on several occasions by Boko Haram in recent months.
The following day, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up at a trade show and a petrol station, killing one person and injuring at least six others. On July 30, an 18-year-old woman detonated a device at the Islamic Legal Studies College in Kano State Polytechnic, killing 16 students as they checked a noticeboard. The same day, another attack was averted as police arrested two suspected Boko Haram members travelling with a 10-year-old girl who was wearing a suicide explosives belt, in Funtua Town, in the relatively peaceful neighbouring State of Katsina.
Analysts have noted Boko Haram’s new tactic of using female bombers.
Meanwhile, sectarian violence continues in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” where the predominantly Muslim north borders the mostly Christian south. At least one person was killed and several others were injured when gunmen, referred to as Fulani Herdsmen, invaded a Catholic Church in Ungwar Poppo, a village in the southern Kaduna State on Aug. 3. The attack marked the third outbreak of religious violence in Kachia this year.
Attacks carried out by Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria States of Kaduna and Plateau have reached an unprecedented level this year. The violence has spread also other states such Taraba and Bauchi in the east. Some analysts point to the use of guerrilla warfare tactics, aimed at wiping out an entire community. Women and children have been among the victims, and in some cases prominent families, such as community or religious leaders, were targeted.