Residents of Maiduguri, the troubled Borno State capital, stayed indoors all yesterday – no thanks to a curfew imposed on the city, which is a prime target of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram.
The Defence Headquarters said troops killed scores of Boko Haram members and captured a Cobra Armoured Vehicle, heavy Artillery guns, and some machine guns from the insurgents.
Also, three Golf cars laden with explosives were destroyed by troops.
But the military admitted that a Brigade Commander and some troops were injured in the encounters.
The injured soldiers have been evacuated, even as the military has launched air strikes against the insurgents.
The DHQ made the statement in Abuja through the Director of Defence Information, Maj-Gen. Chris Olukolade, on the update on Boko Haram invasion of Maiduguri.
The statement said: “Terrorists who attacked Maiduguri in the early hours of today (yesterday) have been successfully repelled.
”An extensive cordon and search is ongoing as part of the mopping up operation to determine details of the heavy casualties suffered by the terrorists.
”Meanwhile, scores of the terrorists have died in the course of the attack, while many of them were also captured with wounds.
”A Cobra Armoured Vehicle, heavy Artillery guns, as well as some Machine Guns and other weapons were captured from the fleeing terrorists. Three Golf cars loaded with explosives were also destroyed.
”Similarly, troops in Konduga successfully repelled terrorists’ attacks twice today, Sunday.
”Some of the troops however lost their lives in the series of operations to repel the terrorists today. Those that were wounded have been evacuated for appropriate medical treatment.
”The 24-hour curfew imposed in the course of the operation is expected to be lifted as soon as mopping operation is concluded. Citizens will be allowed to go about their lawful activities from 6 am tomorrow, Monday, January 26, 2015.”
The DHQ said air strikes were ongoing in Monguno following the wounding of a Brigade Commander and some soldiers by Boko Haram, which led to the tactical withdrawal of ground force.
The statement added: “Meanwhile, an exclusive coordinated air campaign had taken over from ground forces in Monguno, as troops had to retreat from the location after the Brigade Commander and some of the troops were wounded while repelling terrorists attack on the town today.
“ Calm has been restored in Maiduguri and Konduga as operation continues with patrols and surveillance.”
Troops blocked roads leading into Maiduguri, preventing civilians from escaping.
“We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk,” Amnesty International said.
The attacks came as United States (U.S.) Secretary of State John Kerry was in Lagos,meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the main presidential candidates.
The extremists attacked on three fronts around Maiduguri soon after midnight and troops battled to hold them at bay, according to an officer involved in the fighting.
He said he saw dozens of combatants killed. A hospital worker said they were treating dozens of wounded soldiers. Both men spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the press.
Gen. Olukolade said the militants simultaneously attacked Maiduguri and Monguno town, 180 kilometres (112 miles) away.
While soldiers were succeeding in holding off the attack on Maiduguri, it appeared they might lose Monguno, according to Abbas Gava, a spokesman for the civilian self-defence groups fighting Boko Haram.
The 7th Division of the Army in Maiduguri announced a 24-hour curfew on Maiduguri.
The Spokesman of the Division, Col. Sani Usman, said in a statement:“Be informed of the imposition of a curfew on Maiduguri immediately. “The curfew will remain till further notice.’’
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) learnt that insurgents had attempted to storm Maiduguri through Jimtilo on Maiduguri-Kano road on Saturday night. But NAN learnt that the attempt was repelled by the military.
Explosions and gunfire erupted on the outskirts of the city in the middle of the night, marking the start of a major attack, according to Maiduguri residents. The sound of constant shelling could be heard from the Njimtilo area, about 20 kilometres away from the city, until around 11 am.
Hours after the predawn raid, troops, backed by heavy weaponry and fighter jets, fought pitched battles with the militants, according to local officials.
The city was being patrolled by military, police and members of Cvillian Joint Task Force (JTF), a group of government-supported militias, a former Maiduguri local government official, Mohammed Bolori, told FRANCE 24 on the telephone.
”You can leave your house, but only on foot,” said Bolori. “For the first time, the city has banned movement even on bicycles. They suspect that some Boko Haram members had already entered the city and that is why they are enforcing security.
“The brazen attack on Maiduguri comes a few days ahead of the general elections. President Jonathan visited the city on a campaign stop barely 24 hours before the attack.
Maiduguri resident Tarhodjidongar Boukar told FRANCE 24 that church services had been cut short as people scrambled to return home. “The ceremony was shortened and people began to walk home,” said Boukar. “Now I am at home. Everything depends on the army. If they open up circulation [traffic] today, I will move around. If not, I will stay here,” he said.
Another Maiduguri resident, Fatima Zannah, a civil servant, said she was staying at home with her children.
“Everything stops when there is a curfew. It’s so frustrating to be at home. You hear the sounds and you are scared. You are just trying to find out information about the outside by listening to the radio, calling people and looking at the net,” she said.
The insurgents carried out multiple attacks, trying to invade the city from various directions.
Residents said the Boko Haram gunmen in a convoy of Toyota Hilux vehicles loaded with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and rapid propelled grenades attacked the 333 Artillery base and troops hostel located along Damatru/Jos/Kano.
A top security source told our correspondent that over 200 people were killed including soldiers, the insurgents and some civilians who were running for their dear lives.
Security have also confirmed the fall of the only remaining military formation in Monguno, in the northern part of the state, along Baga area.
The insurgents at the same time lunched another fierce battle on Konduga about 50km to Maiduguri. Report of the number of casualties in the Konduga battle was still not clear but a security source said “it was a fierce battle”.
A member of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) said: “The Boko Haram sneaked into Maiduguri through that river, south of 333 Artillery military bases that accommodate our soldiers on Kano Road around Maronti village. When we heard of their infiltration at about 1am, some of us immediately alerted some soldiers at the hostel and Nigerian Air Force (NAF) base, before the gunmen in Hilux vehicles attacked this village and killed some of our soldiers last night,” said CJTF.
Residents of 777 and 1, 000 Housing Estates along Damaturu/Kano road coupled with some villagers on the same route were engulfed in sporadic gunshots and deafening sounds of fired grenades and heavy artillery sounds that lasted throughout the night.
The entire estates were deserted as residents scampered for safety. There was a grid lock on the Damaturu/Kano/Jos road up to the Post Office, the centre of Maiduguri metropolis.
A NAF jet was hovering over the city.
There were reports that hundreds of travellers and motorists travelling into Maiduguri from Damaturu, Potiskum, Kano, Jos and Abuja had to turn back for their safety as the road was closed.
A military source said: ”We have successfully decimated insurgents with several of them killed, the casualty on their side is more than our men. I believe over 200 people were killed. Out of that figure, we lost our men as well and some civilians also died but the terrorists suffered the brunt of the attack.
“The bad news is that Mungonu has fallen in the hands of the Boko Haram terrorists.
The Damaturu/Potiskum/Jos/Kano highway remains the only safe route in and out of Maiduguri as the insurgents have captured from Damboa up to Bama, Gwoza down to Baga and now Monguno, hence closing up on Maiduguri.
The Boko Haram insurgents have also made several frantic attempts to capture Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, “a situation that will leave Maiduguri at the centre should the insurgents succeed”, said a security source.