DAMATURU/MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Islamist insurgents attacked two northern Nigerian state capitals on Monday, hitting a police post and setting off explosions in a market that killed at least five people, witnesses said.
Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states in Nigeria’s northeast have been the main targets of Boko Haram militants fighting for five years to carve a radical Islamist state out of Africa’s top oil-producing and most populous country.
The insurgents raided the Yobe state capital Damaturu at dawn, setting fire to a mobile police station and shooting at an air force jet that was circling their forces and dropping bombs, according to witnesses.
Yobe state police commissioner Marcus Danladi said the militants had caused “serious damage to security formations in the city, including the mobile police base”.
By late afternoon, Nigeria’s state governor said the military had been able to repel the militants from Damaturu using ground and air forces.
Around noon in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, two blasts tore through a crowded marketplace. A hospital source said five bodies had been brought in along with 43 wounded.
A Yobe State University student said that the main administrative building of the campus had been bombed by militants riding on motorcyles and a pick-up truck.
Residents of Damaturu fled or hid as the attackers charged into the city firing their guns and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), people at the scene told Reuters.
“I saw a military jet circling three times. People have abandoned their vehicles on the road and gone home,” Damaturu resident Mustapha Usman said during the morning.
Another resident, hiding behind a gate, said he saw the insurgents driving down a road in police vehicles and an armored vehicle trying to shoot down the plane.
“They mounted anti-aircraft guns and they are trying to shoot the aircraft that was bombarding the town. They were all turning their heads shooting,” he said.
The gunmen launched their attack from the nearby town of Buni Yadi, a Boko Haram stronghold, residents said. No one was available for comment at military headquarters in Abuja.
Boko Haram, which has killed thousands and kidnapped hundreds, was blamed for a coordinated bomb and gun attack on the central mosque in Nigeria’s second biggest city, Kano, on Friday. Last week, two female suicide bombers hit Maiduguri’s main market, killing at least 44 people.
President Goodluck Jonathan has asked the national assembly to extend the state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa that expired on Nov. 20, but no decision has yet been reached.
Additional reporting by Isaac Abrak; Writing by Julia Payne; Editing by Mark Heinrich