Boko Haram insurgents attacked the outskirts of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria on Sunday, their second assault in a week on a city they hope to make the capital of a breakaway Islamist state.
At least eight people were killed as the insurgents fought gunbattles with government soldiers, witnesses and a hospital source said.
“There is heavy gunfire going on. Everybody is panicking and trying to flee the area,” said Idris Abubakar, a resident of Polo on the southwestern outskirts of the city.
The insurgents, who arrived in several armed pick-up trucks and motor-bikes, attacked three points in the southwest and southeast at around the same time, a security source said.
Troops backed by vigilantes had pushed them out of the southeast, a spokesman for a local pro-government vigilante group said.
In a separate incident in the town of Potiskum, 230 km (140 miles) west of Maiduguri, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the house of a federal legislator, killing 10 people, two security sources told Reuters. Sabo Garbu, a member of the house of representatives, was unhurt.
Growing violence by the insurgents is a big problem for President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces a presidential election on Feb. 14 that analysts say is too close to call.
The electoral commission is struggling with logistics to enable more than a million internal refugees to vote.
CIVILIANS UNDER FIRE
Capturing Maiduguri, the northeast’s main city and the place where the insurgency sprang from five years ago, would be a huge victory for Boko Haram. The group currently controls mostly rural areas along the Cameroon and Chad borders that make up a territory the size of Belgium.
It was the second attack there in a week. The military repelled multiple attacks by militants on Maiduguri last weekend in which more than 100 people were killed.
Resident Babagana Lawan said a grenade fell on his house, killing his brother and two factory workers living with him. A hospital source said eight bodies had been brought in from the fighting.
Boko Haram has become the main security threat to the stability of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and top oil producer, and increasingly threatens its neighbours. The group has killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, and kidnapped hundreds while the government has struggled to forge an effective response.
Last month, its fighters took control of Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, the headquarters of multinational force comprising troops from Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
Chadian forces have killed 120 Boko Haram militants in a battle in the north of neighbouring Cameroon that began when the insurgents attacked its troops, the army said in a statement on Saturday. Three of its soldiers were killed.