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Nigerian villagers fight off attacks by Boko Haram

By Aminu Abu Bakr, for CNN
updated 9:40 PM EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Parents and students work to identify girls in video
  • Residents of three villages fought off attacks by Boko Haram
  • They claim to have killed more than 200 attackers
  • The Nigerian military has been accused of not doing enough

Hotoro, Nigeria (CNN) -- Residents of three villages in northeastern Nigeria took security into their own hands this week, repelling attacks by Boko Haram insurgents and killing more than 200 of them, residents and officials said.

Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters stormed the villages of Menari, Tsangayari and Garawa in the ethnic Shuwa-dominated Kalabalge District on Tuesday. Boko Haram -- the group responsible for the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls from the same region -- was met with stiff resistance as locals put up a fierce fight, witnesses said.

A month has passed since the girls were kidnapped, and the Nigerian government has been accused of not acting swiftly or efficiently enough to protect villages in the region threatened by Boko Haram.

In the three villages attacked Tuesday, gunmen arrived in dozens of all-terrain vans, armored tanks and motorcycles, but villagers quickly mobilized and engaged the attackers in a prolonged battle.

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Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said. Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said.
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
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Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls

"They attacked Menari and killed around 60 people and burned some homes before proceeding to Tsangayari and Garawa villages," resident Algoni Ahunna said.

When news of the attack filtered out, people trooped out from nearby villages carrying arms.

Locals seized an armored tank, three all-terrain vans and 90 motorcycles from the attackers, residents said.

"At Tsangayari and Garawa, they met a big surprise as residents engaged them in a fierce battle in which over 200 of the Boko Haram fighters were killed. More than 150 were killed in Tsangayari," Ahunna said.

A lawmaker in Borno state's Parliament confirmed the incident.

"I received information on the gallant action taken by the people in Kalabalge District in which at least 200 Boko Haram gunmen were killed," said the lawmaker, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

A relief worker in the area said he counted more than 100 bodies in Tsangayari alone.

"I believe the number of the gunmen killed is up to 250," said the worker, who also asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from Boko Haram.

It was the second defeat Boko Haram has suffered from locals in the area in over a month.

Scores of Boko Haram gunmen were killed by villagers in early April in a foiled raid, residents said.

20 soldiers killed in ambushes

The director general of the National Orientation Agency, which acts as a communications arm of the government, commended the villagers' actions, but defended the military.

"The vigilante is a common phenomenon in Nigeria -- it is not a new development," Mike Omeri said. "They were able to do what they did because they had prior information that these people were coming to attack them at a particular time in the night and particular time of the day."

Omeri said he did not know how the villagers would have received that key information.

"The military cannot be in every village at the same time -- like I said for emphasis, if the military had not been on the ground sufficiently, perhaps the entire northeast would have been overrun by now. Or the entire country would have been overrun," he said.

Meanwhile, the military was having problems among its ranks after 20 soldiers were killed in two separate ambushes on Wednesday. One of those ambushes happened after troops left Chibok, the village from which the girls were kidnapped.

According to military sources, Nigerian soldiers upset over the deaths of their colleagues opened fire on a convoy carrying a military commander. The commander escaped unhurt, the military sources said.

"Soldiers have been angry with the poor treatment they receive from their superiors in terms of inadequate arms and poor allowances in their combat against Boko Haram," a military source said. "The death of their colleagues was too much for them to bear."

The Nigerian defense spokesman, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, downplayed the incident as "an internal issue that has been sorted out."

Families, friends identify girls in video

Chibok is located in a remote part of northern Nigeria. Many people there do not have access to television.

Those who do have held viewing sessions at their homes to watch a Boko Haram video, released Monday by Agence France-Presse, a French news agency.

Parents crowded around the screens, searching for any sign of their missing daughters.

The governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, also arranged special viewings for some families and girls who escaped the clutches of Boko Haram.

A spokesman for the Borno governor said parents, students and teachers have so far identified 77 of the girls in the video, which shows about 100 girls, not the full 276 abducted from Chibok.

Some relatives interviewed by CNN -- an uncle of one of the girls who escaped and the parents of two missing girls -- said they believe the video also shows some girls abducted as long as two years ago.

The confusion is significant because the video had been hailed as proof that at least some girls in the Chibok abduction -- the object of international search efforts -- were alive and well. Such proof would be a crucial part of any possible negotiations that could lead to the release of the girls.

"I think we've got to be realistic," CNN analyst Frances Townsend told CNN's "New Day" this week. "Even in a negotiation, because of the large number of captives, you are unlikely to return all approximately 300 girls to their families and reunite them healthy, safe and well."

READ: Witness to terror: Nigeria's missing schoolgirls

READ: Fear and school: How Boko Haram cripples children's future

READ: Boko Haram: A bloody insurgency, a growing challenge

CNN's Zain Asher, Lillian Leposo, Stephanie Busari and Aliza Kassim contributed to this report.

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