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Hundreds fleeing jihadist attacks on Nigerian town

Aminu ABUBAKAR
·3-min read

Hundreds of residents of the northeast Nigerian town of Damasak were fleeing into neighbouring Niger on Wednesday trying to escape days of jihadist attacks, locals and a military source told AFP.

Fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) on Wednesday launched a renewed assault on a military base in the town, the fourth attack since Saturday, leading to heavy gunfight, they said.

Nigeria's military has struggled to end a jihadist insurgency in the northeast for more than decade, with two million people displaced from the homes by fighting.

The latest attack prompted residents to flee towards the border.

"The locals are currently relocating to Niger Republic due to state of insecurity in the town," said the military officer, who asked not to be identified.

Many residents had fled the town towards the regional capital Maiduguri or into the town of Diffa across the Niger border following three previous attacks, but other residents decided to stay back.

On Wednesday, residents who remained left the town across the border when militants in several trucks fitted with machine guns engaged troops in a fight outside the military base in an attempt to overrun it.

"This is the situation we found ourselves again, as you can see now we are going to take a refuge in another country that is not even our own," a resident said in a video clip sent to AFP by sources.

In the recording, hundreds of residents are seen on foot and on donkeys moving along a winding bush path with personal effects.

- Jihadist warning -

The fleeing residents wanted to seek refuge in nearby Gamari village across the border but were told that the jihadists had warned the villagers not to host anyone from Damasak.

"The insurgents went to Gamari last night (Tuesday) and gathered the people and warned them not to accept any humanitarian aid from NGOs and not to accommodate anyone from Damasak," said another Damasak resident.

"The only option left to us is to go to Diffa where most of our kinsmen fled to in the past two days," the resident said.

Meanwhile, fighting between the jihadists and troops was continuing around the base, said the resident and the military officer.

The insurgents had attacked the town on Saturday and Tuesday, causing the destruction of humanitarian facilities and at least four deaths, including a soldier.

Late on Tuesday, the jihadists stormed Damasak, burning a divisional police station after a failed attempt to raid the base, residents and military sources said.

Damasak has repeatedly been targeted by ISWAP militants who have made several failed attempts to overrun a military outpost outside the town.

ISWAP, which split from the jihadist group Boko Haram in 2016, has become a dominant threat in Nigeria, attacking soldiers and bases while killing and kidnapping passengers at fake checkpoints.

Nigeria's 12-year-old jihadist conflict has killed 36,000 people and forced around two million more to flee their homes to escape fighting.

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