DAMATURU, Nigeria — A five-hour battle between Islamic extremists and army troops in the capital of Yobe state killed at least 127 people, all but two combatants, according to reports from army and police officers that raise doubts about military claims that they have the upper hand in Nigeria’s fight to halt an Islamic uprising.
The stench of rotting corpses from the morgue hung over Damaturu Specialist Hospital on Tuesday, where a reporter counted 31 bodies identified as those of extremists.
Details still are trickling in about the attack, which militants began at dusk Thursday on an army barracks 20 kilometres outside Damaturu, the capital, where they overpowered the soldiers, seized an armoured car, looted the armoury and set the barracks ablaze.
The reports were given to Yobe state Gov. Ibrahim Gaidam by military officers as he toured the destroyed sites with a heavily armed escort on Monday.
The attackers then moved down the main road into the city where they rammed the armoured car through the gates to the headquarters of the Police Anti-Terrorist Squad. There, they burned down three buildings.
While some of the extremists exchanged fire with the police, the armoured car and others in all-terrain pickup trucks and on foot went on to shoot up and set fire to the police Criminal Investigation Department offices and four other police offices scattered across the city until they arrived at the Mobile Police Base, where the armoured car caught fire and was abandoned.
The militants went to the hospital where they looted drugs and bandages as the medical staff fled in terror, according to doctors at the hospital.
This account differs from the official version of events that extremists attacked an army checkpoint along the road from Damaturu to Benisheikh — where militants have killed hundreds of civilians in recent weeks — at around 3 a.m. on Friday. A “firefight ensued and the insurgents were effectively neutralized,” according to a statement Monday from the army spokesman in Damaturu, Ibrahim Attahiru.
He said 70 militants were killed there.
“Fleeing insurgents” then “regrouped to carry out attacks on Damaturu town,” Attahiru said. Security forces killed another 25 insurgents in the city, he said.