Fresh Bomb Blasts, Gunfire Lockdown Maiduguri

Maiduguri UPDATE: At least 15 separate explosions punctuated by gunfire echoed Monday across a northeast Nigeria city long under siege by the radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram, witnesses said.

(AFP) – Embattled Maiduguri was in lockdown on Tuesday following a spate of blasts and persistent gunfire in a neighbourhood seen as a stronghold of Islamist insurgents, residents said.

“It is terrifying,” said one resident of the Gwange area in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. “We sat up the whole night because of gunshots and explosions. Everybody is inside because it is not safe to venture out.”

About a dozen explosions were heard in the area late Monday, with some reports suggesting a telecom mast and primary school were set ablaze.

Residents said the military then swarmed the area, engaging suspected Boko Haram Islamists in running gun battles through the night and into Tuesday.

A military task force in the city said suspected Boko Haram members had launched attacks with guns, homemade bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

“The terrorists used civilian residences and homes as launching areas for the attacks at different times,” task force spokesman Sagir Musa said in a statement. “There was no civilian casualty, but one soldier was wounded.”

It added that soldiers recovered a variety of weapons and that calm had returned to the neighbourhood.

Musa also said that another bomb explosion occurred in a nearby neighbourhood on Tuesday morning, but there were no casualties.

Maiduguri is considered the base of Boko Haram, and security forces have alleged that Gwange and the surrounding districts are rife with insurgents.

Another resident of the area said he and his neighbours have “been indoors since yesterday evening.”

Suspected Islamists “were chased by soldiers through this neighbourhood while the explosions and shootings continued through the night,” he said, also requesting anonymity.

Maiduguri has seen dozens of deaths in recent days.

Last week, residents claimed as many as 30 people were killed during a rampage by soldiers after a bomb attack that left at least three troops dead in Gwange, although the military denied the allegation.

Maiduguri has been among the places hit hardest by the Islamists, but they have also struck across the country’s mainly Muslim north as well as in some central areas.

Security forces have responded with heavy-handed tactics to Boko Haram attacks, with Human Rights Watch reporting last week that Nigeria’s military may have committed crimes against humanity in operations aimed at crushing the insurgency.

According to the rights group, more than 2,800 people have been killed in the conflict since 2009.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous country, where most people in the south are Christian.

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