Boko Haram extremists last night killed almost 150 Nigerian Muslims praying in mosques before breaking their Ramadan fast.
The militants mowed down men and children in three remote villages in the north-eastern Borno state yesterday – and shot women preparing food at home, according to witnesses.
They slaughtered residents and set houses ablaze in the group’s bloodiest day of attacks since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power five weeks ago.
Gunmen killed at least 97 people in Kukawa, the worst-affected village, according to a local called ‘Kolo’ who said he had counted the bodies. A fisherman who saw the attack corroborated the figure.
Kolo said: ‘They wiped out the immediate family of my uncle… They killed his children, about five of them, and set his entire house ablaze.’
Another witness in Kukawa, Babami Alhaji Kolo, who fled to the state capital Maiduguri, said more than 50 militants had stormed the village.
‘The terrorists first descended on Muslim worshippers in various mosques who were observing the Maghrib prayer shortly after breaking their fast,’ he said.
‘They… opened fire on the worshippers who were mostly men and young children. They spared nobody.
‘In fact, while some of the terrorists waited and set most of the corpses on fire, others proceeded to houses and shot indiscriminately at women who were preparing food.’
In two other villages near the town of Monguno, meanwhile, gunmen killed 48 people and injured 11 others, local politician Mohammed Tahir and witnesses said.
‘They selected particular male residents from among the crowd of worshippers… and opened fire on them before setting the two villages on fire and razing them to the ground,’ Mr Tahir said.
Another resident who managed to escape said the militants arrived in vans and on motorbikes.
‘They killed 48 people and injured several others but many of us managed to escape amid volleys of bullets,’ said the resident, who asked not to be named for safety reasons.
Kukawa is around 30 miles away from the two villages near Monguno.
All three are located near Lake Chad, which straddles Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon and has been a focal point of the unrest.
Boko Haram has intensified its campaign of violence since Buhari came to power on May 29 vowing to crush the jihadists’ bloody uprising that has claimed at least 15,000 lives.
Since then, some 400 people have been killed in attacks blamed on the extremists, who have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, according to an Agence France-Presse tally.
Boko Haram had captured dozens of towns and villages in the north-east last year, but has since been pushed back by a four-nation military offensive that kicked off in February.
Despite their territorial losses, the insurgents have kept up their deadly raids, explosions and suicide attacks on ‘soft’ targets such as markets and mosques.
A new regional fighting force comprising 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin is due to deploy at the end of the month to try definitively end the insurgency.
But they will face huge challenges in countering the guerrilla tactics to which Boko Haram has increasingly resorted.