Strategic city falls in Nigeria’s battle against Boko Haram

Updated 3:31 AM EST, Mon January 26, 2015
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Boko Haram: What you need to know

Story highlights

Boko Haram takes control of Monguno and its huge military barracks, military says

Military using jets to bomb Boko Haram positions, a vigilante says; curfew in place, residents flee

On Friday, Boko Haram released 192 hostages taken in January 6 raid; 26 boys still being held

(CNN) —  

Nigerian forces fought off Boko Haram militants in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, military officials said Monday, but the extremists seized another town in the same state.

But a simultaneous attack on nearby Monguno town was a different story.

“Our soldiers initially repelled the terrorists but they mobilized more fighters and came back in full force. They overwhelmed our troops and forced them to retreat,” the military officer said. He asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to speak to the media.

Monguno is about 135 kilometers (85 miles) from Maiduguri. The former has a population of 100,000 while Maiduguri has about 600,000.

Babagana Musa, a Monguno resident who fled to Maiduguri, said, “Several trucks carrying soldiers drove into Maiduguri. We learned the town (Monguno) has been taken over by Boko Haram.”

Monguno and its military post served as a buffer to keep the militants away from Maiduguri. Its fall leaves Maiduguri vulnerable and puts the extremists in a better position to seize the city.

The Islamists attacked the nearby village of Jintilo around 5 a.m. and were engaged in a gunbattle with troops stationed there. The village is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the center of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Borno Gov. Kashim Shettima said soldiers will continue their crackdown on the militants.

He further said he had canceled all engagements outside of Borno and intends to “remain behind with our people through thick and thin,” and after meeting with other past and present leaders in Northern Nigeria, “pressures are being combined and channeled to the right authorities to ensure that the insurgency problems are brought to an end as quickly as possible.”

Shettima closed by asking the people of Borno to remain “optimistic and vigilant” and urged residents to keep close watch over their children and report any “strange person and movement” to authorities.

The Islamists attacked the nearby village of Jintilo around 5 a.m. and were engaged in a gunbattle with troops stationed there. The village is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the center of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

The fighting in Jintilo forced residents to evacuate their homes and flee into the city, while military authorities imposed a round-the-clock curfew to prevent infiltration by the militants.

“All the residents of neighborhoods near Jintilo have fled into the city due to the ongoing battle between troops and Boko Haram gunmen who want to enter the city,” said Modu Zannari, who lives nearby.

“Boko Haram gunmen in their hundreds attacked Jintilo around 5 a.m., just before the morning prayers, but soldiers stationed there fought back,” Zannari said

“Since 5 a.m. all we hear are cracking of guns and booming explosions coming from the direction of Jintilo,” said Babakaka Said, a resident of another neighborhood near the scene of the fighting.

“There have been radio announcements of indefinite curfew in the city and we have all been asked to remain indoors,” said Adam Kolo‎, who lives in the heart of the city.

Hundreds of troop reinforcements deployed in Jintilo and military jets carried out aerial bombardment of Boko Haram positions, said a member of a civilian vigilante group fighting Boko Haram alongside troops.

“The ‎gunmen have been dealt with and are now on the run, but they are being pursued by soldiers and vigilantes with the aerial support of a military jet,” said the vigilante, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the incident.

The attack came a day after President Goodluck Jonathan made a campaign stop in Maiduguri ahead of the February 14 presidential election. He has promised to end the Boko Haram insurgency if re-elected.

On Friday, Boko Haram attacked Kambari village, 5 kilometers from Maiduguri, killing 15 people and burning homes, in what was seen as a prelude to a possible onslaught on the city.

Also Friday, Boko Haram released 192 hostages, mostly women, who had been kidnapped from a village in Yobe state following a deadly raid, according to community leaders, a local politician and a military source.

The hostages had been held in two Boko Haram enclaves since a January 6 raid on the village of Katarko, 20 kilometers from the state capital, Damaturu, in which 218 women and children were abducted, according to sources.

“Boko Haram have returned to us our 192 women they took away at the beginning of this month‎. They freed them on Friday and dropped them at Girbuwa (village) near Damaturu,” Diptcha Aisami, a community leader in Katarko, said.

Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria regularly since 2009, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians, and bombing government buildings. The Islamist group has said its aim is to impose a stricter form of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

“They (Boko Haram) are still holding 26 young boys they abducted along with the released hostages in Katarko,” said the politician, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

A military officer confirmed the release of the hostages by Boko Haram.‎

On January 6, dozens of Boko Haram gunmen stormed Katarko, where they killed 25 men and threw the bodies in open wells, burned the entire village and kidnapped the women and children, according to Aisami and local vigilantes.

Boko Haram failed attempts to seize the key Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Sunday, the militants’ second attack there in a week.

CNN’s Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.