KANO, Nigeria: Suspected Boko Haram gunmen launched a series of attacks in Nigeria’s restive northeast on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), opening fire on troops in one town before raiding a French-owned factory in another, witnesses said.
The violence in Gombe state came just after midday and began with a gunfight at a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Nafada town.
Multiple residents said Islamists overwhelmed the soldiers before entering Nafada where they set fire to a police station, robbed a bank, and razed a political party office.
They then drove off in 4×4 trucks and on motorcycles to the town of Ashaka 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, where the French industrial giant Lafarge has a cement plant.
Staff at the Ashaka plant said French nationals were on site at the time of the raid, but there was no firm evidence about their condition, with the security forces and officials in Gombe unavailable to comment.
The twin attacks underscored the worsening security situation in the northeast, where violence has continued at a relentless pace despite government claims of a truce with the Islamist rebels.
“They came in large numbers in vans and on motorcycles, shouting Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” said Nafada resident Abubakar Galda, in an account supported by other locals and a rescue worker.
Nafada is near the border with Yobe, a state under emergency rule since last year because of the Islamist uprising and where Boko Haram is believed to control several towns and villages.
If confirmed as an Islamist attack, the violence would be consistent with Boko Haram’s recent pattern of striking south of their stronghold in the extreme northeast.
Inside Nafada, the gunmen “blew up a police station with rocket propelled grenades,” said Galda.
Another resident, Awwalu Ibrahim, said they then razed the local headquarters of the country’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party.
Multiple witnesses said the suspected militants also robbed a bank, a common feature of Islamist raids.
The group is thought to be funding its insurgency increasingly through theft and ransom kidnappings.
Gunmen arrived in Ashaka—where Lafarge has run a cement plant since 1974 —at roughly 3 p.m. (2 p.m. Tuesday Manila time), according to Amadu Wunti, who works at the site.