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By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG — Nigerian militants attacked a village in northeastern Nigeria on Friday, killing many civilians, according to local officials and residents cited in Nigerian media.

The gunmen attacked Damboa, about 50 miles south of Maiduguri, throwing explosives into houses, burning buildings, torching the market, and shooting civilians randomly, according to the reports.

There were conflicting accounts of how many died, with some reports saying that at least 21 people were killed. The attack happened sometime between dusk Thursday and dawn Friday, with conflicting accounts on the timing.

According to some accounts, people who surrendered to the gunmen were shot.

The attackers, believed to be from the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, used the same tactics deployed in assaults on northeastern villages for more than a year, mounting their attacks after the military left an area unguarded.

Nigeria’s Premium Times reported that a tank battalion abandoned Damboa two weeks ago, driven out by attacks from Boko Haram. Militants then blew up a nearby bridge, hampering further military access to the village.

“We were defenseless because all the security personnel, including soldiers and policemen have withdrawn,” Ahmed Buba, a Damboa resident, told the Agence France-Presse news service.

A local government official said women and children fled into the bush when the attack happened, according to AFP. He said the men who surrendered were shot dead.

Many residents fled to Maiduguri after the attack.

Boko Haram, which is fighting for an Islamist state and opposes Western education and culture, has intensified its insurgency in the last year, attacking northeastern villages on an almost daily basis.

At the same time, the group has launched horrific car bombings in cities and towns, targeting markets, bus stations, bars, and football viewing venues and killing hundreds of civilians.

It recently claimed responsibility for twin attacks in the capital, Abuja, and the nation’s commercial center, Lagos. The Abuja bombing killed 21 people; the Lagos attack, involving a female suicide bomber who failed in her apparent attempt to blow up a nearby fuel tanker truck, killed five people.

Boko Haram has abducted hundreds of women and girls since last year, many of them forced to marry fighters, but the mass kidnapping of girls from the town of Chibok in April focused global attention on the terror group.

The insurgents have also stolen military armed personnel carriers, cars, motorcycles, cows, goats, food, and anything else useful to fighters camped out in the bush.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sought parliament’s approval to borrow $1 billion to buy new military equipment to confront Boko Haram. The government spends more than $5 billion on security a year, but critics charge that most of the money is siphoned off by corrupt officials while soldiers are left ill-equipped to confront the insurgents.

The conflict has become increasingly politicized as elections loom early next year, with the government accusing northern politicians of funding Boko Haram.

AFP Photo / Quentin Leboucher

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