KAWURI, Nigeria (AP) — With gunfire exploding all around, Rabi Mallam raced into her hut with her son and granddaughter. But then the suspected Islamic extremists set the home ablaze, and Mallam was burned all over her body before escaping.
No one knows yet exactly how many residents of Kawuri village may have burned to death. By Tuesday, 85 bodies had been found.
At least 300 homes were razed in Sunday’s attack and people still were gathering corpses Tuesday.
“We are still searching and burying corpses since yesterday,” said Dala Lawan, a Kawuri official. “The first burial was 53 but more corpses are still being picked in the bushes and some with serious injuries also died. We have just found two more corpses, which brings the death toll to 85 for now.”
More than 200 people have been killed this month in attacks blamed on Islamic militants who have been increasing the frequency and ferocity of such indiscriminate horrors despite an 8-month old military state of emergency to halt the uprising in northeast Nigeria.
Kawuri villagers had been attending their weekly market and farmers were starting to pack up their offerings when the suspected militants struck Sunday evening, Lawan said. They blew up the market with homemade bombs, shot at anyone in their way, and then set fire to the huts, easy targets with their thatched roofs.
The suspected members of the Boko Haram terrorist network even left behind explosives that went off Monday morning, as people were searching for loved ones.
Women, children and men screamed in pain from burns and bullet wounds at the hospital in Konduga, a town about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Kawuri.
Mallam, 46, was among them, suffering second-degree burns.
“We ran inside the house in fear of gun shots but they came and put fire on the house while shooting,” she told The Associated Press. “I and the two kids could not come out because they were shooting, we were there for hours before they left.”
She said she wrapped her son and granddaughter in heavy blankets soaked in water “but the fire still burned us. I cried for the children because they were calling me to take them out, but I couldn’t.”
Spaces where homes used to be are now filled with charred remains. Large tree trunks that supported the huts are barely standing. Burned-out cars, bicycles and motorcycles litter the empty streets.
Borno state Gov. Kashim Shettima visited the ravaged village Tuesday, which lies southeast of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital where Boko Haram began four years ago. In that time, the militants who want to impose Shariah law have killed thousands.
An attack Sunday on a Catholic church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state, which lies south of Borno state, killed at least 45 people, a local government official said.
While these types of attacks have been happening bi-weekly since the state of emergency was instilled, the attack in Adamawa state shows a possible extension of Boko Haram, said Jacob Zenn, author of a book on Boko Haram and analyst at the D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation.
“They continue to terrify and intimidate the population,” he said, pointing out that the attacks are moving along the border region with Cameroon.
That area, with sparse population and border posts that are far apart, has allowed Boko Haram to attack in Nigeria and run to Cameroon, he said.
“Cameroon hasn’t pressured Boko Haram too much,” he said, adding that might be because the country fears retaliation and they don’t have the security infrastructure in that region. Nigerian officials also have complained that Cameroon is not doing enough.
He noted the border region is becoming a terrorism economy where weapons are smuggled, and suggested some officials may not want to clamp down because they are profiting.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is now putting more pressure on Cameroon, and with the Nigerian air force chasing them back into that country and bombing the militants, we may see a change in policy, he said.
In January alone, attacks launched in farming villages and Maiduguri have killed about 200 people, and have forced the flight of hundreds of villagers in about 30 farming communities around Maiduguri. Some of the displaced are camping on the outskirts of the state capital. More than 5,000 refugees from the violence have fled to Cameroon and Niger this month, the U.N. said last week.
Petesch reported from Lagos, Nigeria.