- (Photo: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
A large-scale battle between Nigerian forces and Islamic militants lasting over 5 hours in the state of Yobe has left 128 people dead, local sources have reported, raising questions about how much control the government has over the troubled region.
Details are still scarce about the violence that occurred late last week, but figures quoted by Nigerian military and hospitals state that 95 of the dead are militants, 23 are soldiers and eight others are police officers.
Other reports claim that the military suffered 35 casualties, with a hospital source sharing with AFP on Monday that the bodies were brought to a local morgue.
Islamic terrorists, largely connected to militant group Boko Haram, have been waging a war on Nigeria and the country's Christians for over four years now, targeting churches, congregations, schools and government buildings. Boko Haram has openly declared that its mission is to drive out Christians from the country, and has focused many of its attacks against followers of Christ in the northern region of Nigeria, where the population is mostly Muslim.
Police and resident accounts of the Islamist raids in Yobe on Thursday and Friday noted that Boko Haram fighters stormed Nigerian security forces by foot and on vehicles, launching the attack after dark. They targeted four police buildings with guns and explosives, sparking the hours-long gun battle with the military. Witnesses said that at least two civilians lost their lives in the attack.
The high death-toll in the latest incident comes nearly six months after the Nigerian government imposed a state of emergency.
"We have received lots of bodies in the last three days from the attacks. I counted 35 bodies in military uniform," said a senior official at the Damaturu Specialist Hospital, speaking under the condition of anonymity.
Another army officer said that 20 other soldiers have been admitted at a hospital in Jos, suffering from "gunshot wounds sustained in the battle against Boko Haram in Damaturu."
Trouble with confirming the death toll comes from reports stating that some Boko Haram insurgents had disguised themselves in military uniforms during the attack, so the total number of dead security forces is still being determined.
AFP noted that despite the Nigerian government's claims that the Islamic militants have been weakened and are not capable of attacking major population centers, the latest attack puts the success of the military's operations in question.
Christian Nigerian organizations have repeatedly called on the U.S. government to officially label Boko Haram a terrorist organization; something which so far has not happened. Groups such as the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria have met with members of U.S. Congress and started petitions asking for this to change, and have reached out to other faith-based groups seeking unity against the violent actions of Boko Haram.