Attacks, clashes in north Nigeria leave several dead
10/19/2012 4:10:04 PM -
KANO, Nigeria (AFP) - Explosions and gun battles between suspected Islamist extremists and security forces hit northeastern Nigeria, leaving several people dead and buildings destroyed in one city, officials and residents said Friday.
The clashes sparked panic and chaos in the city of Potiskum from late Thursday, with residents reporting a number of dead as well as schools and a government building set on fire.
In Maiduguri, the base of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, gunfire and several explosions could also be heard on Friday, but details were not immediately clear.
Police said they were seeking to restore calm in Potiskum and clear unexploded bombs, while some of the ordnance was still detonating.
"There are so many bombs here and there, and I can't give you the casualty figure now, because our men are still in the field to restore calm," said Patrick Egbuniwe, police commissioner for Yobe state, where Potiskum is located.
A military source said some houses had been destroyed with home-made bombs and a security checkpoint was attacked, but he also could not give a death toll yet. He said Boko Haram was suspected to be behind the violence.
"I cannot ascertain as of now how many people were killed, apart from the one (suspect) that I know who was shot at the checkpoint," the source told AFP.
Potiskum, which has been repeatedly hit by Boko Haram, was under military lockdown on Friday as security forces sought to track down the attackers, while residents described heavy explosions and gunfire, including home-made bombs being thrown at houses.
Two residents spoke of seeing a number of bodies, while one said several schools were burned, including an Islamic seminary.
"From where I stand, I can see the local government secretariat completely burned and several shops around it smouldering from last night's attack," one resident said.
Another said that "at least five primary schools, including an Islamic seminary, have been burnt in the attacks."
Soldiers have often responded brutally to attacks in northeastern Nigeria and have been accused of killing civilians and burning homes in the past.
It was however not clear if troops were the cause of any of the latest destruction in Potiskum.
Violence linked to Boko Haram's insurgency in northern and central Nigeria, including killings by security forces, is believed to have left more than 2,800 people dead since 2009.
Human Rights Watch said last week that both Nigerian security forces as well as Boko Haram may be guilty of crimes against humanity.
Thursday's violence seemed to have begun with an attack on a security checkpoint, which led to gun battles with the assailants.
Residents said chaos then spread to other parts of the city, with bombs exploding and gunfire echoing through neighbourhoods.
Blasts and gunfire had also rocked the city on Wednesday.
Authorities said then that home-made bombs were thrown at security forces during a search of a suspected Boko Haram hideout, resulting in a gun battle, but gave no indication of casualties.
Northeastern Nigeria has been the region hardest hit by Boko Haram, though its attacks have also spread to other areas of the north and centre.
The group has claimed to be seeking an Islamic state in Nigeria, though its demands have repeatedly shifted. Boko Haram is believed to include a number of factions in addition to imitators and criminals who carry out violence under the guise of the group.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, is divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.