Suspected extremists attack northern Nigeria city
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) -- Suspected Islamic militants attacked the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, with shooting and explosions putting residents to flight Friday morning.
Children walking to school when the shooting erupted cried in fear and confusion.
Soldiers began engaging the insurgents in a shootout near the main Giwa Military Barracks and it appeared the extremists were trying to hit the military in their stronghold. The barracks is the headquarters of a 10-month-old security forces offensive to suppress the Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria using draconian state of emergency powers.
Maiduguri is the birthplace of the Boko Haram terrorist network that is blamed for the deaths of thousands of Muslims and Christians in a 4-year-old insurgency aimed at transforming Nigeria into an Islamic state under strict Shariah law. Nigeria's population of 170 million, the biggest in Africa, is comprised of almost equal numbers of Christians living mainly in the south and Muslims in the north.
The military cut cell phone service Wednesday in Maiduguri, as part of a renewed offensive, so there was no way to contact officials.
Twin car bombs exploded in a bustling marketplace in Maiduguri on March 2, killing more than 50 people. A Jan. 14 bomb killed 40 residents and a Dec. 5 assault on the air force base and a military barracks on the outskirts of town killed an unknown number of security forces and extremists who destroyed five aircraft on the runway.
Friday's attack is a major blow to the military, which has been reporting successes they said had extremists on the run.
A series of military press releases have been issued in the past two weeks following unprecedented criticism of the failure to halt deadly attacks that have killed more than 500 people this year, including assaults in which soldiers are reported to have abandoned checkpoints and left civilians at the mercy of the militants.
President Goodluck Jonathan has responded by firing his entire military command last month and appointing a new defense minister last week.
A statement Thursday from the security forces's Joint Security Information Committee "noted with great concern the orchestrated attack on the morale of the Nigerian security forces engaged in the fight against terrorism by a section of the political elite" and accused them of encouraging a mutiny in the army.
On Tuesday, a Defense Ministry statement said captured extremists had confessed their struggle was in jeopardy with fighters starving and under constant aerial bombardments. It claimed that some had confessed their clerics "declared that the operation of the sect had come to an end as the mission could no longer be sustained."
Such claims have been dismissed by politicians. House of Assembly speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal said Tuesday the country has run out of excuses for its inability to defend citizens against "an orgy of deaths, destruction and waste." He spoke at a special session in memory of 59 high school students gunned down or burned to death in a locked dormitory in a February attack in a neighboring state. Witnesses reported that soldiers had abandoned a checkpoint on the road to the school just hours before the attackers struck.
Associated Press writer Michelle Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.