MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected sect members disguised as traders invaded an open market and opened fire, killing at least 15 people in Nigeria’s northeast village of Gajiram, witnesses and security operatives said Thursday.
Gunmen also set fire to the local government secretariat, police station and a clinic during the attack Wednesday in the village just 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Maiduguri, the volatile capital city of Borno state, where the Boko Haram ideology sprang up some four years ago.
Ngubdo Modu, a local fruit vendor, said he managed to escape by hiding in the bush. He guessed the attacks may have been in retaliation for recent arrests of sect members identified by a local vigilante group known as the Civilian Joint Task Force.
“I believe we suffered that attack because of how our Civilian-JTF had succeeded in curtailing their atrocities by pointing out some of their members to the security operatives who arrested them recently,” he said.
Phone communications out of the area have been grounded for three months by security forces, so attacks are often reported late. The lack of phone access makes the area a soft target for Boko Haram, a group that wants to impose Shariah law in Nigeria.
Since 2010, more than 1,700 people have been killed in attacks by Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden.”
The state attorney-general Kaka Shehu Lawan and the state police commissioner have visited Gajiram to give condolences to the families of those killed and to ascertain the extent of the damage, a government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.
The network has staged attacks recently against vigilantes. On Friday, suspected Islamic sect members ambushed and killed at least 24 members of the Civilian-JTF who were on a mission to find and fight the sect near Monguno town, 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the city of Maiduguri. Those who returned from the attack said 36 other vigilantes were missing.
Earlier that week two attacks killed at least 20 members of the Civilian-JTF in Damasak, where six members were shot while sleeping, and in Barma, where attackers disguised in military uniforms slit the throats of young men.