Islamist militants kill hundreds in Nigeria

By Adam Nossiter / New York Times News Service

Published May 8, 2014 at 12:01AM

ABUJA, Nigeria — Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds in a town in Nigeria’s northeast this week, the area’s senator, a resident and the Nigerian news media reported Wednesday, as more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the militants, known as Boko Haram, remained missing.

The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Sen. Ahmed Zanna.

The missing schoolgirls have grabbed the world’s attention, and more offers of help poured in to the Nigerian government on Wednesday from Britain, China and France. But Boko Haram’s deadly attack on Gamboru Ngala was similar to many others in the past several years that drew little or no notice beyond Nigeria. Bodies still lay in the street on Wednesday night, said Hassan, a cement salesman.

The town is on the Cameroon border and, as with other Boko Haram targets, many of its youths had joined an anti-Islamist vigilante force and were helping the Nigerian army.

People ran into their homes to save themselves, said Hassan, who heard the attackers chanting. Gamboru, a town of perhaps 3,000 people, “is now burned into ashes,” he said. “I saw it with my own eyes, 171 dead bodies, scattered around.”

At least 18 police officers were killed, but Zanna said there were no military forces in the town because all had been drafted in the search for the schoolgirls. Hassan said no officials had been to the town since it was attacked.

“Yesterday, people were still trying to pick up dead bodies,” Zanna said. “It’s really traumatizing.” The senator said the insurgents had used two armored personnel carriers stolen from the Nigerian military several months ago.

Hassan said most of the remaining residents had fled to Cameroon. He has returned, but he said life had become difficult. The market, one of the largest in Borno state, has been burned to the ground, and so has the principal hospital.

“We don’t even have drinking water,” he said. “We don’t have shops in Gamboru. We have to run to Cameroon to get something to eat.”