“It’s confirmed,” Colonel Victor Ebhaleme told AFP when asked about reports of 16 Boko Haram members being killed in the city of Maiduguri. “They came to attack part of the city,” he said, declining to provide details.
Gunfire and explosions erupted in Maiduguri on Tuesday as soldiers moved into the area where Boko Haram members were believed to be hiding, residents said.
“There have been at least eight explosions in these neighbourhoods and soldiers have moved in with tanks and have taken over the whole area,” one resident said Tuesday.
Another said the area was largely deserted of residents after earlier signs that soldiers were preparing a crackdown. Alleyways had been sealed off ahead of Tuesday evening’s violence, they said.
The explosions and gunfire began rocking the city at around 4:30 pm and stopped at around 9:00 pm.
Maiduguri is at the centre of Boko Haram‘s insurgency, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives since mid-2009. The group’s mosque and headquarters were located there until they were destroyed in a 2009 military assault.
Nigerian troops have also been accused of abuses in Maiduguri, including burning homes and killing civilians in the wake of bomb attacks.
Thousands of residents have fled the city amid the spiralling violence.
Also on Tuesday in the northern city of Kano, gunmen shot dead a former deputy Nigerian police chief, his driver and a bodyguard, police said.
Former Deputy Inspector-General of Police Abubakar Saleh Ningi, forced into retirement in January along with Nigeria’s police chief and all his other deputies, was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding gunmen, police said.
Police declined to name suspects in the shooting.
Boko Haram has been blamed for a series of drive-by assassinations in Kano as well as coordinated bombings and shootings in January which killed at least 185 people, its deadliest attack yet.
Ningi and the other police officials were forced out in the wake of the January attacks.
Boko Haram’s attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated and have affected a wider geographical area, spreading from their base in the extreme northeast across the wider north and down to the capital Abuja, in the centre of the country.
It claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja in August which killed at least 25 people as well as a suicide attack on the Abuja office of one of the country’s most prominent newspapers.
The group has continually widened its targets, which have included security forces, churches and police headquarters in the capital.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.