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Dozens killed in spate of Nigeria attacks

By Aminu Abubakar and Mark Morgenstein, CNN
updated 8:18 AM EST, Mon March 3, 2014
People gather Sunday near the scene of two explosions in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
People gather Sunday near the scene of two explosions in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Military denies reports that civilians were mistakenly killed in air operations
  • On Saturday, attackers destroyed Mainok village in Nigeria, killing 39 people
  • Residents blame Boko Haram for the rifles-and-grenades assault
  • In another town, two explosions about two minutes apart killed dozens, residents say

Kano, Nigeria (CNN) -- The fight against militant Islamists in Nigeria led to dozens of deaths, mostly of civilians, in three villages this weekend.

A military plane trying to bomb camps of the Boko Haram extremist group in the Sambisa Forest on Friday night "mistook the village (Daglun) for a Boko Haram camp," said Ali Ndume, a senator representing the region. The inaccurate air raid was part of "an ongoing offensive" against the insurgents, Ndume said.

Ndume said the four bombs dropped by the government aircraft killed five people and wounded several others. But Daglun residents, some of whom were forced to flee into the bush from burning homes, said the bombardment caused many more casualties.

"The village was asleep when I heard an aircraft hovering, and within a short interval, aerial bombardment started," a villager said, adding he was one of 25 wounded. "The bombs torched homes and killed 20 people, most of them elderly people who could not run fast enough to escape the bombing." The villager refused to give his name, fearing retaliation.

A nurse at Mubi General Hospital, 45 kilometers (30 miles) away, confirmed that 25 people were admitted with "mostly severe burns and ruptured tissues."

CNN was unable to confirm the number of causalities.

In a statement Sunday, the Nigerian military dismissed the allegation that civilians were mistakenly killed in air operations, "as the claim could not be confirmed after the mopping up aspect of the operation.

"The reports are believed to be part of the design by those bent on discrediting the counter terrorists mission," it said.

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Less than 24 hours after that incident, a flurry of violence in northeastern Nigeria, blamed on Boko Haram, left more than three dozen people dead and may have taken many more lives.

Dozens of attackers in military uniforms stormed the village of Mainok on Saturday evening, riding four-wheelers and motorcycles, as residents were preparing for evening prayers.

"They came in around 7 p.m. and opened fire indiscriminately with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), explosives and AK-47 rifles," said Mainok resident Yahaya Umar. "They killed 39 people who were buried this morning and destroyed the whole town."

Boko Haram has attacked Mainok several times over the past two years, including a raid in July that killed 25 people there.

Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group that has waged a campaign of violence in northeastern Nigeria, trying to impose its strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law.

In its statement, the military said that troops and terrorists clashed around Mainok, resulting in an unspecified number of deaths on each side. The soldiers were in pursuit of people who carried out an attack in Buni Yadi last week, the military said.

Police authorities were not available for comment on the attack in Mainok, which came soon after two explosions in Maiduguri, 50 kilometers away.

"We were just lamenting the twin blasts in Maiduguri at the soccer viewing center when the Boko Haram gunmen arrived and started firing volleys of RPGs and guns," Abdullahi Gana said. The Mainok resident added that some of the victims were burnt in their homes while others were shot as they tried to flee.

The Maiduguri blasts happened about two minutes apart, as a crowd watched soccer on television there as well, said Maiduguri resident Goni Kakani.

"It is difficult to say how many people died in the blasts, but you are talking of dozens of dead people," said resident Babagoni Hassan.

A security official said it was not immediately clear how many people had been injured or killed.

Mechanic Dahiru Sadiq said he and his customers ran for their lives after hearing the explosions.

"I can see smoke and flames across the road, though I don't know which building is on fire," he said.

Another resident, Muktar Lawan, saw destroyed buildings.

"All the houses in the area shook and many buildings are razed and reduced to rubble," Lawan said.

Suspects believed to be responsible for detonating a bomb in Maiduguri have been arrested and are "helping in the ongoing investigation on the incident," the military said in its statement.

"Patrols are continuing on land and air in the entire mission area in North East towards apprehending or eliminating the rampaging terrorists in the area," it said.

Daglun, Maiduguri and Mainok are all in the northeastern Nigeria state of Borno, the site of repeated Boko Haram incursions.

A year of attacks linked to Nigeria's Boko Haram

Aminu Abubakar reported and wrote from Nigeria, and Mark Morgenstein co-wrote this story from Atlanta

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