DAKAR, Senegal — The Boko Haram men, disguised in army uniforms, gathered the villagers together and promised them protection.
Then, shouting “Allahu akbar,” they opened fire, killing scores, according to three officials from the area, in northeast Nigeria along the country’s border with Cameroon.
That massacre — on Tuesday morning in the village of Attagara — was the bloodiest in a series of attacks by the sect this week in Nigeria’s far north, according to officials and Nigerian news reports, as the killings by Boko Haram continued unabated, and apparently unchecked by the country’s military.
The deadly assaults have become so pervasive that the officials spoke of the sect’s having established virtual control over an entire area in the country’s far northeast, and even hoisting their black flag in one village, Ashigashiya. A precise death count has not been established, the officials said, because the army and other government authorities were not yet present.
“There is no military presence in that area as of this night,” said Sen. Ali Ndume, who represents part of Borno state, where the villages are, in Nigeria’s National Assembly.
“For two to three days now, my people are under pressure, and the killing is continuing,” Ndume said late today in an interview from the state capital, Maiduguri. “So far, the military is saying they are on their way to the place,” the senator said. He described the area as “under siege.”
This week’s attacks appeared to follow a familiar pattern of retaliation against villagers who resisted the sect, and the deadliest of them mimicked the mass abduction of schoolgirls in the same area in April that has focused global attention on Boko Haram — sect members in army uniforms lulled villagers, assembling them in a large group before mowing them down.
“They killed almost all the people that gathered together in the village,” a man from Attagara said. He described himself as a “community leader,” but declined to give his name.
“Some of the people, they tried to escape to the bush, and they followed them,” he said. “Women that were carrying male children, they would kill the child.”
“They burn the houses,” he said. “They have burned my house. They have burned my everything.”
He said women from Attagara had buried at least 50 inhabitants. Ndume said 42 had been buried; and the Borno state assembly representative for the area, Ahmed Usman Jaha, said about 100 had been killed there. The Nigerian news media spoke of hundreds of deaths in the area.
The apparent lack of military intervention, even as the killings continued, was likely to raise renewed questions about the capacity of the Nigerian armed forces to confront the onslaught by Boko Haram. Foreign nations that are assisting the Nigerians in the hunt for the kidnapped schoolgirls have already raised such doubts, and now they are appearing in Nigeria as well.
This week, the military’s spokesman was forced publicly to deny news reports that some senior army officers were being court-martialed for collusion with Boko Haram.
The virulence of this week’s attacks appears to have been spurred, in part, by military pressure on Boko Haram from the Cameroon side of the border, according to Ndume. Over the last week, Cameroon has deployed thousands of troops to its far north, taking up what is becoming a regional campaign against the group. In doing so, it appears to have pushed Boko Haram out of some previously safe redoubts across the border from Nigeria.
The sect has emptied out a substantial area in Nigeria’s northeast, with thousands of refugees now clustering in Maiduguri.
On Sunday morning, its forces surrounded Attagara on motorcycles and began firing on people, according to Jaha and the community leader. Vigilantes in the village fired back, they said, and the attack was repelled.
But on Tuesday, villagers learned that another attack was coming. Several went to an army post not far away, the community leader said, and begged for protection. When they returned, the village was full of men in army uniforms who claimed that they were there to help, he said.
Speaking late today from Maiduguri, Jaha said, “Unfortunately, the people in the community assumed they were military personnel.”
The community leader said, “Some of the dead bodies are still there.”
“They could not bury everybody,” he said. “That area has been almost completely taken over by the Boko Haram,” he added. “They are almost in control.”