Suspected Boko Haram gunmen on Thursday stormed two towns in northeast Nigeria, raiding banks and burning government buildings as well as political party offices, residents said.
Scores of gunmen dressed in military uniform arrived in Bajoga, 60 kilometres from Gombe city in a convoy of 20 vehicles at about 7 am.
Troops managed to push out the attackers and they then drove towards the town of Ashaka five kilometres away near the border with Yobe state to the northeast.
Both raids came after an attack on the Yobe state capital, Damaturu, on Monday, which left more than 150 people dead, including 38 police and six soldiers.
Militant fighters in that raid are thought to have come from the Buni Yadi area in the southern part of Yobe, which Boko Haram has controlled for some time.
Although not as badly hit by Boko Haram violence as Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states, Gombe has seen a number of attacks, including a bus station bombing in October which killed at least eight.
Ashaka, which is home to a giant cement works owned by French group Lafarge, was hit on November 4, when fighters stole huge quantities of dynamite and several pick-up trucks from the plant.
In June, Boko Haram deployed its first female suicide bomber when a middle-aged woman detonated her explosives outside a barracks in Gombe city.
The two attacks on Bajoga and Ashaka fit a pattern of almost daily violence by the Islamists, who have taken over more than two dozen towns in the three worst-affected states in recent months.
Boko Haram has frequently raided banks for funds to buy weapons, while burning down police stations, government and political party buildings is a sign of their opposition to secular rule.
– ‘Billows of smoke’ –
In Bajoga, residents said the militants shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greater) and fired indiscriminately before burning down a police station in a three-hour battle with troops.
“They raided two banks and set fire to offices of political parties. They also set sections of the local government secretariat on fire,” said resident Babani Ashiru.
Another resident, Sani Dankani, said the sound of gunfire and explosions forced him to flee into the nearby bush.
“From where I’m standing, I can see billows of black smoke coming from different parts of the town,” he added.
Troop reinforcements were sent from Gombe and a military jet which bombed the militants forced them to withdraw, said local schoolteacher Sa’adu Balarabe.
Residents in Ashaka reported heavy fighting between troops and the gunmen in the town from about 11 am.
“All we can hear is sounds of guns and explosions,” said Samaila Adnan.
“Heavy fighting is now going on between the gunmen and soldiers. A military jet is encircling the town,” added another local, Altine Badamasi.
Since the previous attack on the Lafarge works, more troops were deployed to the town to try to prevent further attacks, residents said.