Twenty-one civilians were killed after Boko Haram fighters clashed with troops in the restive northeast of Nigeria, a local lawmaker said on Thursday.
The fighting erupted at about 5pm on Wednesday in Malam Fatori, a commercial hub known for fishing and farming in the remote north of Borno state near the border with Niger.
“Boko Haram tried to attack Malam Fatori… but they met stiff resistance from the Multi-National Joint Task Force who initially repelled the attack after prolonged fighting,” said senator Maina Maaji Lawan.
“They pushed back the insurgents and people in the town and the soldiers thought it was over but the insurgents mobilised more men and weapons including an APC (armoured personnel carrier) and launched a renewed attack.
“They overpowered the soldiers who were forced to flee. The insurgents went into the town shooting indiscriminately. They killed 21 people.”
Local residents put the civilian death toll at 16 and claimed that dozens of militants were killed in the initial military response on the ground and from the air.
Aminu Ahmad, who lives in the Abadam local government area, of which Malam Fatori is the biggest town, estimated that “hundreds” of heavily armed Boko Haram fighters arrived in a convoy of pick-up trucks.
“Honestly, it was a bad outing for the insurgents because dozens of them were killed,” he said.
The troops involved were from Nigeria, Chad and Niger and were stationed nearby.
The multi-national force was set up in the late 1990s to fight cross-border crime and arms trafficking but its remit was expanded to include Boko Haram, when the insurgency started in 2009.
The fighting forced thousands of people to flee the area across the border, said residents and Lawan, who represents northern Borno in the upper house of parliament.
“The town was deserted as a result of the attack and thousands of people crossed into Niger and are now camped in Bosso town which is only five kilometres away,” he said.
“Malam Fatori is a big commercial centre in the region with a reputation of farming and fishing centre. The displacement of the people will have adverse effect on the town.