Hundreds of people are believed to have fled the capital of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state as Boko Haram militants continue to sweep unabated through the region and terrified locals doubt that the deflated Nigerian military will be able to protect them.
Nigerian officials are increasingly warning that the Islamist militant group might advance on Maiduguri, capital of the besieged state, and home to some 2 million people, the New York Times reports. Boko Haram, waging a barbarous campaign of violence, has over the summer quickly collected several municipalities in the northeast, some of which officials say could be used as bases from which the militants could close in on Maiduguri.
In an alarming harbinger earlier this week, Boko Haram fighters captured the town of Bama, about 45 miles from Maiduguri and a linchpin in the jihadists’ campaign to vanquish all of Borno. Government forces had rebuffed the militants during an initial siege on Monday, but the extremist group returned en masse the following day to overwhelm the town, according to Reuters.
A soldier who fought at Bama also told Reuters that government air reinforcements botched an air strike near the end of the battle, dropping bombs on parts of the town and killing everyone there — including insurgents, but also Nigerian troops.
Boko Haram fighters patrolling Bama have since prevented anyone from burying the dead, and bodies are rotting in its streets, the BBC reports. More than 26,000 people are believed to have fled the fallen town.
Meanwhile, a recent report from Chatham House, a London-based policy group, said the Nigerian army is failing, and will continue to fail, to battle back Boko Haram fighters, in large part because locals do not trust the national armed forces. Amnesty International has accused government troops of war crimes, including torturing suspected Boko Haram loyalists.
In late August, Boko Haram declared an Islamic caliphate in the land it has so far gathered up in northeast Nigeria, near the nation’s border with Cameroon. The group, dovetailing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s ominous promises for the towns and cities it has taken in the Middle East, has said the claimed territories will be ruled under strict Islamic law.
Hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok, also in Borno, are still missing, almost five months after they were snatched by Boko Haram militants.