Nigerian security forces repelled an attack by Islamist rebels on the northeastern town of Biu on Wednesday, killing several of the insurgents, witnesses and a security source said.
Several dozen fighters belonging to the Boko Haram militant group drove into Biu in pick-up trucks and on motorcycles, witness Yahaya Mshelliza told Reuters by telephone.
“They came shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest) and shooting everywhere, but confronted by the soldiers for three hours, most them were killed,” Mshelliza said.
“At the moment only three escaped into the bush and are being pursued by the soldiers.”
A security source confirmed the events but had no further details.
Growing insecurity linked to Islamist militants is a major issue for President Goodluck Jonathan a month before polls in which he faces a rival, Muhammadu Buhari, who was seen as tough on security when he was a military ruler in the 1980s.
The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what was the second attack on a major town by Boko Haram militants in the past two weeks.
The group’s fighters seized the military base and town of Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, on Jan. 3. Baga was the headquarters of a multinational force with troops from Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The militants have killed scores and razed dozens of homes there, with the military putting the death toll at 150, while some local officials have put it as high as 2,000.
The United States said on Tuesday it sees the Feb. 14 election in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, as a factor behind the sharp rise in attacks by Boko Haram, a group which has killed thousands since launching an uprising five years ago.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque in the northeastern city of Gombe, killing at least two other people and wounding 14 during prayers.