Maiduguri, Nigeria - A massive assault by Boko Haram in the northeast Nigerian town of Damboa displaced more than 15 000 people, an official said Monday, as the security forces sent reinforcements to flush out the Islamist fighters.
The attack on Damboa began late Thursday but continued through the weekend, with witnesses saying that civilians were left defenceless by the security forces who withdrew from the area earlier this month.
Officials from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) were struggling to establish a death toll amid multiple reports that Boko Haram fighters were still occupying the town, having hoisted their flag above a public building.
Abdulkadir Ibrahim of NEMA told journalists that at least 15 204 people had fled Damboa to escape the Islamist onslaught.
“The number of displaced in (the town of) Biu is 10 204. We have 3 000 in Maiduguri and 2 000 in Goniri,” he said.
Multiple media outlets on Monday reported that Boko Haram had taken over Damboa and were seeking to establish themselves as the local authority, something the Nigerian Islamist are not widely known to do.
But the military tried to downplay the extent of the crisis.
“We are not conceding any portion of this country to any terrorist group,” defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said.
“Security agencies are firming up deployment of troops in the entire area...We are also going to reverse every form of insecurity in that area very soon,” he added.
Boko Haram has relentlessly targeted civilians across the northeast, killing more than 2,000 already this year, and staged brazen attacks on the security forces.
Should the Islamists prove capable of holding their ground in Damboa in the face of a military assault, it would mark a major embarrassment for the security forces and signal a significant setback in Nigeria's effort to crush the five-year uprising.