Clashes Sunday in Nigeria’s restive northeast killed five Boko Haram militants and 13 fighters from a vigilante group which has fought a series of recent battles with the Islamists, a state government official said.
Members of the civilian militia heard that Boko Haram terrorists were planning to attack the town of Benishiek in Borno state, Boko Haram’s historic stronghold, said Garba Ngamdu, an aide to the state governor.
The Boko Haram militants arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning and a gunfight broke out, Ngamdu added, in an account corroborated by several vigilante fighters.
“The youths (vigilantes) in Benishiek lost 13 of their members. Twelve died when they were ambushed around 12:30 am (2330 GMT Saturday) and another one died in the hospital,” he said.
He added that five Boko Haram fighters were killed in the fighting.
The governor’s aide and wounded vigilantes described the clashes to journalists in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, some 70 kilometres (43 miles) from Benishiek.
Area military spokesman Sagir Musa confirmed the violence in Benishiek and said “troops are still combing the area in search of the fleeing terrorists”.
Speaking at a Maiduguri hospital, injured militia member Mohamed Abuwar said the vigilantes succeeded in preventing Boko Haram from carrying out a much more deadly attack.
“We successfully repelled the terrorists’ attack because they wanted to kill all of us and our parents,” he told journalists.
The military has applauded the emergence in recent months of civilian fighters, describing them as a helpful tool which has boosted the military effort against Boko Haram.
But the Islamists, who claim they are fighting to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, have repeatedly targeted the vigilantes, with dozens killed in a series of clashes across the northeast.
Boko Haram are “angry with us and want to discourage us,” said Zanna Fannami, a vigilante injured in the latest fighting.
But, he added, “there is no going back. We have taken our destinies in our hands”.
Much of the northeast was placed under a state of emergency in May, following a wave of violence that left hundreds dead.
When the emergency measures were imposed, the military launched a major offensive to crush the insurgency, but the success of the operation has been hard to establish.
The military claims that Boko Haram is now in disarray and is only capable of attacking soft targets in remote areas.
And, while attacks did appear to go down immediately after the offensive was launched, the violence has spiked again, including a series of gruesome attacks on civilians.
Muslims have been slaughtered while gathering for morning prayers and dozens of students killed in an attack on a school in July.