Maiduguri — The Joint Task Force in Borno State said it killed eight Boko Haram fighters in a shootout at the Baga Fish Market in Maiduguri yesterday.
But witnesses said many more people, most of them bystanders, were killed in the shooting. The gun duel was preceded by at least seven explosions in and around the market.
Trader Mohammed Sabiu said more than 20 people were killed in the shooting and that he had seen three Hilux trucks loaded with dead bodies moving out of the market.
"But the fact is, not all the people shot are Boko Haram members; I am sure there are civilians," he said.
Witnesses said trouble started at about noon when an explosion rocked the market just when it was filled with people.
"There was a heavy blast behind the Baga Market, and many other blasts followed, and this caused commotion as traders and customers scattered," Hannatu Abu, a fish seller, said.
Spokesman for the JTF, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Mohammed, told journalists in a teleconference that some suspected Boko Haram members stormed the Baga Market and shot three civilians.
"The men of the JTF immediately came to the rescue and engaged the sect members. The three civilians did not die...we rushed them to a hospital for treatment," Mohammed said.
"Our men succeeded in detonating 3 explosives at the market and killed 8 members of the sect. Large number of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and other weapons has been recovered. The whole market has been cordoned off and we are currently searching the market to track down the fleeing members," he said.
He added none of the members of the JTF was injured or killed.
The BBC Hausa reported on its website yesterday that up to 30 people were killed in the shooting.
Reuters news agency quoted a nurse at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital saying at least 20 corpses from the fighting had been delivered there.
"I am not sure of the exact number but I saw more than 20 bodies," he said, adding that most were wearing traditional Islamic Kaftans worn by men in the area. None were in military uniforms.