No fewer than 350 people lost their lives on Friday as the orgy of bloodletting in some parts of the country continued with the clash between Boko Haram insurgents and the Special Forces in Maimalari, Maiduguri, Borno State. The insurgents had attacked the 21 Armoured Brigade of the Nigerian Army in the wee hours of Friday.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the dead included insurgents who attacked the military formation and their members who were held at the biggest detention facility on the premises of the headquarters of the Brigade.
It was gathered that the insurgents targeted the detention facility within the 21 Armoury Brigade where most of the hardened members of the sect were detained.
The military authorities were said to have received an intelligence report of an impending attack on the barracks and prepared for the insurgents.
It was learnt that the insurgents attempted to divert the attention of the military by carrying out the attack in military uniforms and vehicles painted in military colours.
The huge casualty figure was revealed amid fresh facts on why the insurgents were able to advance near the detention camp with ease. It was learnt that the insurgents’ advancement could not be immediately halted because the Shilka tank, a multipurpose self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery weapon positioned to secure the barracks, failed to fire.
An authoritative security source who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the Special Forces, told Saturday PUNCH that the Shilka tank refused to respond to signal. This situation, he said, prompted the Special Forces to fight hard to prevent what would have been a tragic outing.
It was learnt that the tank had earlier been well -positioned to secure the portion of the barracks where the insurgents had penetrated. The source said if the gun had responded to touch, the soldiers would have found it easier to repel the attack of the insurgents without any damage.
It was learnt that the soldiers abandoned the disappointing artillery tank and relied on other weapons to ward off the insurgents’ attack.
The source said that the military was already looking into the reason behind the disappointment of the crucial weapon.
It was learnt that security operatives who were investigating the Shilka tank failure were considering two possibilities-the age of the old artillery weapon and the possibility of sabotage .
“You know that when these people came, the Shilka gun simply did not fire. It disappointed, so the soldiers had to rely on other weapons to defend the barracks.
“The gun was positioned to defend that part of the barracks where the insurgents came from. If that gun had fired, they wouldn’t have got into the barracks near the detention facility.’’
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the insurgents stormed the strategic army formation from a place called Pori, near a tomato farm close to the barracks, with some Armoured Personnel Carriers, as early as 6.30am.
A security source, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said that the insurgents fought their way into the detention facility at the barracks where they attempted to free some of their members being held.
The source said that at the end of the confrontation, the soldiers recovered a Buffalo Truck and an Armoured Personnel Carrier from the insurgents.
Although the soldiers prevented the barracks from being burnt by the invading Boko Haram fighters, it was said that the insurgents burnt the MRS, (the traditional medical facility within the barracks) and the detention facility.
A security source, who spoke to one of our correspondents on the condition of anonymity, said that 53 of the insurgents were killed in action at the barracks while 297 were killed in a joint operation by the Air Force and the ground forces engrossed in chasing the fleeing insurgents.
The source further said that four children of a soldier were among those killed.
The leader of a volunteer youth vigilante group who assisted the military in repelling the attack, Abdullahi Dere, said not less than 207 suspected Boko Haram terrorists were killed.
Dere, who is the chairman of Sector 5 of the local vigilante group, popularly referred to as “Civilian JTF” in Jidari Polo near the Giwa Barracks, said several insurgents fled the town for their hideouts with injuries.
He said: “We counted 207 dead bodies of Boko Haram members shot dead by the military in Jidari Polo area alone. The suspected Boko Haram members had attacked Giwa Barracks and freed some of the detainees but the military were able to go after them and killed them. As we speak, the dead bodies of the terrorists are still within our area unattended to.”
He added: “We were also able to capture some fleeing Boko Haram suspects and handed them over to the military.”
Confirming the casualties figure given by Dere, the Vice- Chairman of the vigilante -group in the area, Tijjani Bello, said apart from 207 killed close to the barracks, many more were killed in different parts of the city.
He said, “Many Boko Haram members were also killed apart from the ones killed in Jidari Polo. But we only fear that some innocent residents may be among those killed.”
Another eyewitness told one of our correspondents that he counted 60 bodies that were dumped in a heap at the headquarters of the Brigade. It was learnt that the ground forces and the men of the Air Force were still in hot pursuit of the fleeing insurgents as of the time of filing this report.
The source said that the military operation was designed to ensure that the fleeing insurgents were prevented from getting out of Maiduguri into their safe havens in the vast Sambisa forests.
It was further gathered that a good number of the insurgents were killed en masse in a plantation not too far from the Brigade on Friday afternoon.
The source said that the insurgents were attempting to hide and to regroup in the plantation when they were stormed by security forces, which spotted them from a hilly location. “Several of them were also killed this afternoon in a plantation where they wanted to take cover; they were hiding there without knowing that security forces were watching them. All of them who were found in that location were killed and their arms and ammunition recovered.
A source said that about 60 bodies of dead insurgents were dumped at the gate of the Brigade barracks in Maimalari by 5.30 pm on Friday.
It was further learnt that the insurgents inflicted some gunshot wounds on some soldiers and barracks boys during the attacks. The injured were said to have been taken to a hospital as of the time of filing this report.
Saturday PUNCH further learnt that 10 Air Force fighter jets were deployed to provide the requisite air support for ground forces who engaged the insurgents for close to three hours.
Investigation revealed that a third year student of Mass Communication was hit by a stray bullet at the University of Maiduguri.
The Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, said in an electronic mail on Friday that the attack was an attempt by the insurgents to free their detained members in order to boost the number of their depleted fighters.
Olukolade said that the Special Forces foiled the attack with heavy casualties on the side of the insurgents.
He said that the victims of the terrorist attacks included some of the detained terror suspects. He said that the Special Forces also captured many of the terrorists and their arms and ammunition.
He added that four soldiers who sustained gunshot wounds were being treated.
He said, “Pockets of terrorists apparently in a move to boost their depleted stock of fighters this morning attacked a military location in Maiduguri with a view to freeing their colleagues who are being held in detention.
“The attack has been successfully repelled with heavy human casualties on the terrorists. Some of the victims of the terrorists fired in their efforts to break into the detention facility included those they came to rescue.
“Many of the terrorists and their weapons have been captured. Four soldiers were wounded and are being treated.
“Hot pursuits by land and air operations are ongoing along with cordon and search of surrounding localities.
“No institution has been reportedly attacked, although the effect of firing from the encounter could be noticed in surrounding facilities in Maiduguri.”
He said that the attack was a reaction to the intensity of military attacks on terrorist ‘strongholds at Talala, Monguzum, Sambisa forests, Gwoza, Mandara mountains as well as the general area of Lake Chad which were destroyed and where many of the insurgents were killed.
Meanwhile, the Senate President, David Mark, on Friday lamented fresh attacks of Boko Haram insurgents on Maiduguri, and pleaded with the insurgents to end the hostilities.
Mark, who spoke against the fresh onslaught of the insurgents on Maiduguri on Friday, reminded them that violence or crime anywhere in the World could not produce good result.
The senate president in a statement in Abuja by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Paul Mumeh, said “no matter the amount of anger in a man’s mind, resorting to violence or killing another cannot be a solution.”
He said, “There are many channels of communication to dialogue. We can still come to a dialogue table and resolve our differences.
“The spate of attacks and killings across Nigeria is becoming intolerable and indeed unbearable. The situation is degenerating. We cannot pretend not to know that the nation is endangered. We must all speak out with one voice against this growing terrorism.
“For whatever reason, let wise counsel prevail. We are not at war with each other. Nigerians and indeed Africans are known to be their brothers’ keepers.
“This time-tested position should not be compromised. Let’s respect human life. It is not too late to reverse this ugly situation especially in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Katsina and Benue states.”
He, however, implored the security operatives across the country to remain vigilant and be determined to protect lives and property even as he urged citizens to cooperate with them.
Meanwhile, the Senate President has sent a message of condolence to the Igbo apex socio- cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, on the demise of its former President, Ambassador Ralph Uweche.
Mark described Uweche as an ambassador par excellence and a bridge builder who worked for the peace and unity of Nigeria. He said Uweche left a positive footprint on the sand of time.
He said, “We shall miss his frank and honest disposition especially on national issues. He was a great patriot who believed in the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria.”
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