Damaturu — Security forces yesterday said they killed 20 suspected Boko Haram insurgents in Maiduguri during hours-long shootout on Saturday night.
One soldier was also killed and two others injured when security men raided an enclave of sect members, said the Joint Task Force operating in Borno State.
"We got intelligence report that some suspected Boko Haram terrorists were having a meeting at a particular location in the metropolis," field operations officer of the JTF, Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, said yesterday.
"While we were approaching the venue of the meeting, the terrorists opened fire on the JTF but were repelled. The encounter led to the killing of 20 terrorists while we lost one soldier and two others sustained injuries."
In a separate incident yesterday, JTF operatives recovered a car bomb which was abandoned by a suicide bomber when he realised that he was being tracked by security operatives, Ebhaleme said.
Residents of Gaidamari and Bulabulin Ngarnam in Maiduguri said they had a sleepless night on Saturday as a result of gunfire between security forces and gunmen.
"We had a long and terrifying night....We started hearing sounds of gunfire from 11pm till dawn. In fact, most of us in Gaidamari could not eat our Sahur (meal taken around 4am before commencement of fasting) because of fear," resident Gajima Mustapha said.
Witnesses said they saw military pickup vehicles loaded with dead bodies heading toward hospitals yesterday morning.
"I saw about 15 dead bodies in front of our hospital," said a medic at the State Specialists Hospital in Maiduguri.
Our correspondent reports that the major roads leading into Maiduguri from Kano, Gombe, Yola and Chad were blocked between 2pm and 5pm yesterday, crippling traffic movement and trapping people in markets and other places.
The NNPC Depot, Damboa road, GRA, Barracks road, Post Office, Shehu Laminu Way, as well as the roads leading to the police headquarters and the SSS headquarters were all barricaded.
The JTF said the blockade was for the safety of the people. "Our men were tracking the suicide bomber who was manipulating his way into the town. We wanted to ensure that innocent people were not killed...this is why we temporarily blocked the roads," Ebhaleme said.
"It is a great victory for the security agents. When the suicide bomber realised that he could not succeed in his mission, he abandoned the vehicle and fled. As I am talking to you now, we have recovered it and demobilised the explosives," he said.
In its reaction last night, the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, said the claim by the JTF on killing of its members was not true.
"They (JTF) only succeeded in killing innocent civilians. It is not possible for 20 of our members to sit in a volatile place and hold meeting...it is not possible," spokesman Abul Qaqa said by telephone.
'Shooting, massive arrests in Damaturu'
In Damaturu, gunmen yesterday engaged security forces in shooting that lasted for more than five hours after massive arrests of youths in the Yobe State capital.
Residents in Powarii area told Daily Trust that security personnel raided the area immediately after dawn prayer and arrested many young men.
"But gunshots started when some youths resisted the indiscriminate arrest, because JTF broke into many houses and made the arrests, many of us run for safety but no fewer than 60 youths were arrested," a resident said.
A senior military officer who pleaded anonymity said they acted on intelligence that there were insurgents hiding in Powari, Pindigari, Baban Tsangaya and other areas.
"Therefore we went on search and arrested so many of them," he said. "On our way coming out, we heard some gunshots around Pindigari Primary School and we responded. While advancing to the place we saw them running and some of them hiding under a culvert but before we reach them an EID exploded and they ran away but we were able to kill two and arrested many," the official added.
Yobe State Police Commissioner, Patrick Egbuniwe, confirmed the attack saying that the JTF patrol and search team went to arrest some suspects at Pindigari area "Some gunmen open fire on them and they replied, but there was no report of any casualty from the JTF side," he said.
Our correspondent observed exodus of people from all parts of Damaturu.
A resident of Nayinawa area Ibrahim Khalid told Daily Trust: "Seventy percent of residents here have migrated leaving their houses and belongings."
He said, "Residents are being slaughtered by assailants on daily basis uninterrupted and the government is not doing enough to stop them."
A senior Police source told Daily Trust that from June ending through last month, at least two people were slaughtered daily in killings suspected to be by sect members. "But it has subsided this month due the security measures employed," he added.
At Sani Abacha General Hospital Damaturu, our correspondent gathered that about ten dead bodies were brought yesterday, three of them slaughtered and six shot dead including a woman who was killed yesterday at Powari area.