Maiduguri — At least 30 civilians and insurgents were killed in Maiduguri yesterday when security operatives allegedly went berserk after the killing of an Army lieutenant and six other military personnel in an explosion.
Witnesses said the violence was triggered by a "thunderous blast" which hit a military patrol van at about 7.15am along Lagos Street in the Borno State capital, which has seen deadly Boko Haram uprising for the past three years.
Soon after the blast in which the military personnel were killed, angry soldiers opened fire and set ablaze over 100 houses and shops, as well as 35 vehicles. Gwange, an adjoining settlement of the less privileged, was worst affected, witnesses said.
Spokesman for the Joint Task Force (JTF), Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, confirmed that there was a blast but said only two soldiers sustained injuries.
He declined to comment on the allegation of mass killing of civilians and burning of homes, shops and vehicles.
"There was a bomb blast involving a JTF Hilux vehicle at 7.15am today (yesterday) along Lagos Street in Maiduguri metropolis. It is feared that 2 soldiers sustained injury. Details on the incident, if any, will be communicated," Musa said in a text message sent to journalists.
Baba Karami, who works at a nearby car-wash platform, said the impact of the explosion tore the patrol vehicle of the JTF operatives and the soldiers in it.
"Our platform is less than 150 metres away from the scene...I even fell because of fear. Black smoke and dust soon enveloped the sky and after some time, I counted the bodies of six soldiers on the ground. This was after we took cover in a nearby shop," he said.
He said some people were trapped inside their homes while fires raged. "If you get into Gwange, you will also see some burnt cars in front of burnt houses," he added.
Another witness, Usman Sanusi, who was taking his son to school when the blast happened, said he saw two military pickup vans, water tanker and an ambulance heading towards the scene of the blast which was already cordoned.
"We were forced to take a detour and before I got to my destination. I saw smoke billowing around Gwange area," he said.
Sources at the State Specialists Hospital and the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital said many corpses have been deposited in their mortuaries.
"The atrocities going on in Maiduguri is worse than what obtains in Somalia. People are being killed and their wealth destroyed by the soldiers. Today, even new cars displayed for sales have been vandalised...We want them to go, we prefer to be killed by the terrorists," a resident said.
Our correspondents report that a shopping mall and some shops attached to the state NUJ secretariat were also burnt.
Yesterday's attack on the JTF was the deadliest in recent times. About nine days ago, a bomb was ignited remotely on the same Lagos Street reportedly killing two soldiers.
Businesses were paralyzed on the street after yesterday's incident, while students who were on their way to the University of Maiduguri and patients heading to the Teaching Hospital had to look for alternative routes.
Borno State deputy governor Zannah Umar Mustapha who visited the area sympathised with the people affected.
He promised government's assistance to the affected families as soon as Governor Kashim Shettima returns from official engagement abroad.
"We would continue to plead with the aggrieved members in our society to lay down their arms. There is nothing like peace," Mustapha said.
No group claimed responsibility for planting the bomb that killed the soldiers, which apparently sparked more killings.
In nearby Yobe State, the Police on Sunday said 30 suspected Boko Haram insurgents were killed in fighting with the Joint Task Force.