Boko Haram factions controlled by Abubakar Shekau and Abu Mus'ab Albarnawi still maintain cells from where they plan and launch attacks in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital and neighbouring communities, security sources and locals told Daily Trust yesterday.
Members of the Civilian JTF, community leaders and soldiers operating in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states told our correspondent that while the Nigerian military had succeeded in making it difficult for the Boko Haram to operate from Sambisa forest, the terrorists had established new or reactivated old cells in other places.
They said there are several Boko cells that thrive within 100 kilometres radius of Maiduguri, enabling would-be suicide bombers to sneak into populated places such as markets and places of worship to kill unsuspecting residents.
"Because of their proximity to entry points into Maiduguri, travellers and hamlets around the 'red spots' are now susceptible to attacks," one of the sources said.
The sources added that armed robbery, cattle rustling and abductions for ransom have become daily occurrence, adding that Boko Haram terrorists had vandalized telecommunication masts, making it difficult for victims to call for support from security operatives on time.
A community leader cited Sunday's attacks in Damboa to the presence of some Boko Haram camps around the town, adding that the camps had been there for long and wondered why troops were not given directives to dislodge them.
"There are camps around Damboa controlled by Mamman Nur and Abu Mus'ab. They are located at Ajigin, Talala, Maudum and a big one at Alagarno; they are sandwiched by units under control of the 3 Division and 7 Division of the Nigerian Army," he said. He said that was why the routes leading to Damboa and Biu remained under constant threats.
According to him, after the attack in Damboa which led to the death of over 30 people, "corpses of six female suicide bombers, who actually sneaked in from the camps I mentioned, were discovered."
"We can't farm anymore because the miscreants have active cells around, they can strike anytime; they live in the camps and they make all the bombs and suicide jackets there. They have the equipment and generators. We are pleading that government should direct the military to dislodge them," he said.
"You see, it was out of anger that some of our people alleged on Sunday that it was the military that fired artillery. What actually happened was that after the first set of the female suicide bombers detonated their explosives at Damboa Shehuri and Abachari, the military operatives fired RPGs from their units as deterrence; they didn't fire artillery into the market as alleged but the argument is that why can't they take the war to the terrorists who are not far?" he asked.
A senior member of the Civilian JTF, who does not want his name mentioned, said with the exception of the Maiduguri-Damaturu-Kano road, it is still risky for commuters to travel out of Maiduguri to other towns without military escorts.
According to him, Maiduguri-Damboa-Biu-Gombe; Maiduguri-Konduga-Bama-Gwoza; Maiduguri-Dikwa-Gamboru/Ngala and Maiduguri-Monguno- Baga roads are still very fragile.
"On many occasions, those traveling alone fall victims to Boko Haram attacks; if they are lucky, they would just be robbed and let go while in some instances, the terrorists would ambush and kill everyone," he said.
A local in Jakana town, Muhtari Malam, told the Daily Trust yesterday that Boko Haram had opened "a big camp" in a village called Kolomattari.
"Kolomattari is 52 kilometres South of Jakkana; the terrorists are living there in large numbers. They have their vehicles, motorcycles and an APC," he said.
It was gathered that the Shekau faction holds sway along Konduga and Bama local government areas of Borno State.
"They have their cells around Gambale, Falturam and Darfada. There are others living in small clusters around Mulgwailawanti and Gwarimari," another source said.
He recalled that the Boko Haram fighters had sometimes in February succeeded in attacking Kofa village, 17 kilometres from Maiduguri along Konduga road and set the village ablaze.
Also in February, he said, the attackers sneaked into Baleshuwa and Jimini villages in Jere Local Government Area and abducted some ladies. He said the military and civilian JTF, taking advantage of the trenches dug around the place, repelled further attacks by the invaders.
On April 24, he added, the terrorists laid siege on Dusman and Bashitti and rustled hundreds of cows. Few days after, they sneaked into Kolori, a village five kilometres south of Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri and snatched nearly 100 cows and shepherded them towards Kayamla village without any resistance.
Army insists B/Haram not holding any territory in Borno
The Theatre Commander Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Rogers Nicholas, via phone told Daily Trust last night that the reports were false.
He said, "All those places you mentioned have soldiers on grounds so how can terrorists be holding camps there, come over to the North East and we will take you to all these places so you can see for yourself, people are going about their activities and normalcy has returned to these places because of the military operations".
"These reports are false and untrue please," he added.
'Army needs to do more'
Salisu Bakari, a retired officer of the Nigerian army who closely monitors security situation in the north east, said Nigerian troops had done well of recent but must consolidate their onslaught on the Boko Haram.
"The BH does not have capacity to launch daring attacks but we must closely monitor them; they are regrouping in small cells and that is why they are launching nocturnal attacks. I am fully aware they have many cells around Maiduguri and environs and we must not allow them to fester," he said.