Boko Haram was on Sunday blamed for an attack on motorists in northeast Nigeria which left one person dead and underlined the Islamist group’s continuing security threat to civilians.
Gunmen on Saturday opened fire on a convoy of vehicles travelling to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, from the garrison town of Monguno, 140 kilometres (about 85 miles) to the northeast.
“They shot dead a driver and injured two women and a child travelling with him,” said bus driver Kabir Hassan, who arrived at the scene shortly after the attack.
The victims were heading to Maiduguri to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on Monday and the vehicles included traders in a pick-up truck packed with rams for the annual ritual sacrifice.
The traders abandoned their animals when the shooting started and the rams were seized by the rebels, said driver Abba Gana, who gave a similar toll of death and injuries.
A car abandoned by fleeing travellers was torched in the attack and the wounded taken to a hospital in Maiduguri for treatment, Hassan and Gana said.
- Military escorts -
The scene of the attack — Kulukawuya village, 50 kilometres from Maiduguri — is on a strategic trade route linking the city to Gamboru on the border with Cameroon.
In the past two years Boko Haram has carried out near daily deadly attacks on motorists on the highway, making the road unsafe for travellers and forcing the military to later close the road.
But it was declared open again in July and hailed as an indication of military success in pushing the insurgents into the semi-desert wilderness of the Borno countryside.
Nevertheless, passenger vehicles and trucks laden with goods still typically drive with a military escort in case of sporadic attacks.
- Regional ops -
Nigeria and a regional military coalition involving its neighbours Cameroon, Chad and Niger has put pressure on the Islamic State group affiliate, whose insurgency has killed at least 20,000 since 2009.
Supply lines for fuel, food and weapons have been cut, forcing remaining fighters to launch attacks on unaccompanied vehicles on the road and remote villages from their hideouts in the bush.
Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) spokesman Colonel Muhammad Dole said in a statement on Saturday that recent air strikes had hit 12 known Boko Haram camps, which had “greatly shattered their cohesion”.
There was no independent verification of the claim but Dole said blockade of supply routes and arrests of suspected Boko Haram quartermasters had caused the group “serious hardships”.
Four Boko Haram fighters suspected of having attacked an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the Diffa area of eastern Niger were killed and two others arrested, he added.
But two soldiers were killed and six others wounded in a “clearing operation” after air strikes at Baroua village. The injured were taken to Niger’s capital, Niamey, for treatment, he said.