Fighters Repel Boko Haram Attack on Nigerian Army Base

The siege is a sign of the Islamist insurgency’s remaining strength

Nigerian-armored-vehicle

Soldiers and civilian fighters said they held off a siege by hundreds of Boko Haram militants who launched an attack on a heavily fortified army base in northeastern Nigeria’s biggest city.

The assault is evidence of the Islamist insurgency’s remaining strength even as it loses territory. Militants, including female suicide bombers, rode motor scooters and Toyota pickup trucks into Maiduguri late Wednesday, firing artillery that residents said shook the city.

Their target was Giwa Barracks, the headquarters of the army division stationed there to combat Boko Haram.

The Islamist insurgency has repeatedly attacked the Giwa Barracks during its six-year campaign against the government, freeing prisoners and seizing weapons. In a March 2014 attack, the group liberated hundreds of prisoners, including children who cheered for a Boko Haram film crew.

In the latest attack, a group of vigilantes, many of them armed with homemade muskets, rushed to the outskirts of the city; Boko Haram fell back after about an hour of sporadic gunfire, witnesses said.

The Nigerian military and civilians have fought together against Boko Haram.

The casualty toll, still unclear, included at least four soldiers, said an army officer stationed in the barracks. Three vigilantes died when a trio of female suicide bombers ran at them and detonated bombs under their clothes.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has led to more than 23,000 deaths in impoverished northeastern Nigeria, and the group has kidnapped thousands of men, women, and children—including more than 200 teenage girls from a boarding school last April.

In recent weeks, Nigeria has beaten the militants back, using helicopters, mercenaries and assistance from neighboring West African nations. The group, which once occupied a swath of Nigeria the size of Belgium, is now confined to a game reserve where it has planted land mines, the army says.

Wednesday’s attack offered at a glimpse at how the group is responding. In videos, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has threatened to destroy Giwa Barracks—which means “Elephant Barracks” in the local Hausa language—calling it “mouse barracks.”

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