One of the largest towns in Borno state, Gwoza, is now totally under the control of the extremist Boko Haram sect, residents and a security official have said.
Hundreds of Boko Haram gunmen, dressed in military uniforms, in the wee hours of Wednesday, invaded the rocky border town while riding on different types of armoured vehicles and trucks, residents said.
They initially attempted an attack on the town on Tuesday but were said to have been repelled.
But on Wednesday, at about 4:00 a.m., the insurgents mobilised and launched a major offensive, residents said.
Witnesses, who telephoned journalists from Gwoza, said the gunmen first dislodged soldiers guarding the town, took over some of their arms before attacking fleeing residents.
As usual, members of the Gwoza community had to turn to the rocky mountains for refuge.
A resident of Gwoza who spoke to journalists from his mountainous hideout, using weak signals from Cameroon’s major national carrier, ‘Orange’, said: “ Most of us are up in the mountains, many may have been killed, but from our height here we could see the Boko Haram people driving some armoured tanks with iron wheel towards the direction of the Emir’s palace.”
“I lost a friend with whom we were fleeing when a bullet hit him from behind.
We are scared, we don’t know what will become of us by night fall because the entire town is now taken over by the terrorists,” said the caller who would not mention his name for fear of being targeted.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the new Emir of Gwoza, Muhammed Timta, escaped to an unknown destination, even as fears mounted amongst residents that he could have been captured by the insurgents.
The immediate past emir, Mr. Timta’s father, was killed on May 30 by the Boko Haram insurgents. Some parts of Gwoza, especially behind the rocky mountain that borders Cameroon had been taken over by Boko Haram, who sacked the residents and hoisted their flags in June.
The military is yet to comment on the recent takeover of the town by the insurgents, but had vowed to dislodge them from the town after the June attack.
A top source at the Borno State Police Command, however, confirmed that the police was aware of the attack and the ongoing occupation of Gwoza by the insurgents.
The source, who sought anonymity as he was not permitted to speak to journalists, said: “We have received signals from Bama that Gwoza is under attack, but we could not give details now because the Commissioner of Police himself is out of town.” Apart from the attack on Gwoza, gunmen suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect, also attacked and used explosives to bomb a bridge near Garkida Village of Hawul Local Government Area.
The bridge is located near the spot where the late Emir of Gwoza was attacked and killed in May when he was travelling alongside two other emirs to attend the burial of the late Emir of Gombe. Attacks on Borno communities by the Boko Haram sect have continued despite the state of emergency imposed on the state last year.
The insurgents are said to have killed over 13,000 people since 2009. President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday in Washington restated his call for more international collaboration to defeat the Boko Haram sect and other such groups across Africa and the world. –