More than 60 mourners leaving a funeral in north-east Nigeria have been killed by the militant group Boko Haram, according to Nigerian officials and other sources in the area.
Ten years after the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was murdered in police custody after a severe crackdown on his followers, Boko Haram’s factions are continuing to wage a bloody insurgency against the Nigerian security forces and civilians, defying government attempts to destroy the group.
In the latest attack, a group of men were walking back to their village after the funeral prayers for a relative who had just died when armed men roared up on motorcycles and opened fire, the head of the Borno Hunters Association, Bunu Bukar, said. The village is to the north of Maiduguri, Borno’s state capital, in the area of Nganzai.
Bukar said the militants “were moving on three motorbikes when they met and opened fire on a group of men who were returning to Badu Kuluwa from nearby Goni Abachari village, where they had attended funeral prayers for a deceased relative”.
“Our men recovered 23 dead bodies from the scene of the attack,” he added.
The account provided by the chairman of the local council, Muhammad Bulama, differed slightly. He said the attackers struck at 11.40am in the graveyard, rather than on their way home, killing more than 60 people and injuring 11. These were later taken to hospital in Maiduguri.
Both agreed that the attack had its roots in an incident several weeks before. Bulama said it was a “reprisal mission” for an attack Boko Haram had unsuccessfully tried to wage on the village of Badu.
With the help of local vigilantes, “the villagers resisted the attack, killed 11 insurgents and recovered 10 AK-47 rifles in the encounter”, he said.
Bukar said the village that Boko Haram fighters were about to take reprisals on was called Aduwawu. Rather than being their initial target, the Badu mourners were killed to stop them warning people in Aduwawu, he added.
“The Boko Harams killed these innocent people out of fear that they will alert the targeted villagers of Aduwawu of their coming, knowing what had earlier transpired,” he said.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected this year, has repeatedly vowed to “decimate” Boko Haram. However, attacks have increased in recent months and millions of displaced people continue to suffer, dependent on aid that is rarely sufficient.
Less than two weeks ago, several humanitarian workers were abducted when armed men attacked their convoy near Damasak, close to the border with Niger.
One, an employee of Action Against Hunger, a major international NGO, pleaded for her release in a video shared with the prominent Nigerian journalist Ahmed Salkida.
“We are Nigerians; we are also working for Nigeria. I beg that the Nigerian government should please do something to see that we are released,” said the woman, who said her name was Grace.
She went on to name previous kidnap victims, and mentioned Leah Sharibu, the only girl not released after the Dapchi kidnapping early last year, a Christian who refused to renounce her faith. Nigerian authorities have said they were negotiating for her release, but Grace said Sharibu had been killed.
“This has occurred before in the organisation Red Cross, where some ladies were caught – Hauwa [Mohammed Liman] and Saifura [Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa],” she said, sitting on the ground with other, male abductees against a backdrop of UNHCR-branded tarpaulins.
“They also asked to be released but because Nigeria did not do anything about it they were killed. I’m begging on behalf of all of us here that please Nigeria should not allow such [a thing] to happen to us. It also happened again with Leah [Sharibu] and Alice [Loksha] because Nigeria could not do anything about them, they were not released, they were killed.”
It is not clear, however, that the faction that abducted Sharibu is the same one that carried out these latest abductions, and several Nigeria-watchers said that Sharibu’s death was far from certain.