Boko Haram has been blamed for attacks that killed more than 200 people in this year alone [Reuters]
Nigeria’s military said it killed eight suspected radical Islamists who attacked a market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, denying reports that dozens of civilians had been killed in the attack.
The military on Monday said three people were injured in the attack, but a local nurse told the Reuters news agency his hospital had received at least 20 bodies from the fighting.
At least 30 people had been killed, a medic and a witness also told the AFP news agency.
« The number of dead could not be less than 30, » the Maiduguri hospital nurse told AFP.
Residents said they heard gunfire and explosions in the Baga market area of the city on Monday.
Gunmen, suspected to be members of the Islamist sect Boko Haram, stormed the fish section of market and shot at vendors and customers, witnesses said. Traders reported that women and children were among the dead.
The spokesman for the joint military taskforce (JTF) there said the blasts were from the military deactivating three bombs in controlled explosions.
« At about 1230 GMT this afternoon at Baga market of Maiduguri metropolis some gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram attacked and shot civilians at the market, » Hassan Mohammed, spokesman of a special military unit in the city, told AFP.
The military « immediately came to the rescue of the situation and safely detonated three bombs planted by members of the sect and shot and killed eight members of the sect, » he said.
But a Reuters cameraman on the scene said the bombs appeared to have gone off and had left large craters in the road.
One trader named Mairami, said six gunmen stormed the food and commodities market and « opened fire indiscriminately. At least 30 people including women and children were killed. »
Another vendor by the name Gana gave a similar account of the attack in the Maiduguri, the stronghold of Boko Haram which has been blamed for a deadly wave of bombings and shootings mainly in the north of Africa’s most populous country.
Witnesses said the gunmen set off eight home-made bombs inside the market, destroying stalls. The entire market was deserted after the attack.
« The gunmen just opened fire killing people. I saw three military vans piled with bodies leaving the market. There were several explosions after the shooting, » Gana said.
Boko Haram is waging an increasingly violent insurgency against the Nigerian government, striking beyond its northeastern heartland to hit targets across the north and in the capital, Abuja.
The nurse at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital told Reuters that corpses from the fighting had been delivered there.
« I am not sure of the exact number but I saw more than 20 bodies, » he said, adding that most were wearing traditional
Islamic Kaftans worn by men in the area. None were in military uniforms.
A chauffer who was driving around the market said he saw two pickup trucks full of dead bodies at the Ibrahim Taiwo Police Division near Baga market, before it was cordoned off.
Nigeria’s security forces are struggling to contain Boko Haram and a series of bloody crackdowns have often served
to radicalise the local population against them.