Wed, Feb 19 17:31 PM EST
By Ibrahim Mshelizza
Gunmen from Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist group attacked the northeastern town of Bama on Wednesday, opening fire on a school,
shooting or burning to death 47 people
and trashing the palace of a traditional ruler, officials and witnesses said.
The death toll was confirmed by Lawal
Tanko, the police commissioner for Borno state, which lies at the epicentre of an Islamist insurgency that has killed
thousands in the past four and half years. Many more were wounded, he said.
He added that the assailants had also
partly burned down the palace of the
traditional ruler of Borno, whose kingdom was one of West Africa’s oldest
medieval Islamic caliphates. “Boko Haram came in at about 4.00 a.m.(0300 GMT), just when we were getting ready for the morning prayers,” said Bama resident Abba Masta, who lives near the palace. “There was shooting everywhere and they set the palace on fire. Many died. Students had to run for their lives as they attacked the government girls college as well.”
It was one of several deadly attacks this
week. On Sunday the Islamists killed 106 people in Igze village, according to official figures, making it one of their deadliest assaults so far. That prompted the Borno state governor to say the rebels were better armed and motivated than government forces.
“The senseless targeting of innocent
civilians is unacceptable,” U.S. State
Department spokesman for Africa Will
Stevens said in Washington on Wednesday, referring to the Igze attack. “We encourage Nigerian authorities to
investigate this heinous act and to hold
accountable … those responsible.”
The military denied Boko Haram were
better armed or motivated and said it
was making progress, but that no country facing terrorism had defeated it
completely. President Goodluck Jonathan ordered extra troops into northeast Nigeria in May to crush Boko Haram, which wants to create a breakaway Islamic state in the largely Muslim north, but the offensive, backed by air power, has so far failed.
The militants have retreated into the
remote, hilly Gwoza area bordering
Cameroon, from where they mount
deadly attacks against civilians they
accuse of being pro-government, and are abducting scores of girls – a new tactic eerily reminiscent of Uganda’s cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army in decades past.
Earlier on Wednesday, Boko Haram
fighters attacked the house of an army
general in the village of Buratai in Borno
state, killing a soldier guarding it, Tanko
said.He said General Umar Tukur Buratai, who is stationed in the southern Niger Delta, was not there at the time of the assault, which had inflicted “minimal damage”.
Jonathan faces an election in a year, with Boko Haram’s persistence as the number one threat to Africa’s top oil producer fuelling criticism that he has failed on security.