Terrorists reportedly belonging to the Islamist group Boko Haram murdered scores of motorists and truckers in a pair of roadside attacks
on highways running through Borno State in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The attacks were carried out by assailants wearing Nigerian military uniforms and set up roadblocks.
In the first attack, on Tuesday, Boko Haram guerrillas wearing army uniforms stopped traffic on a highway between the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu, dragging people out of their vehicles and killing them, with 143 bodies recovered so far.
Tuesday's toll was initially given as "more than 20", but information often takes days to trickle out of the remote and sparsely populated region, where roads are bad, curfews are in force and the military has cut the phone network since May.
"We have been picking corpses off the roadsides all day, there are more in the bush," said Abdulazeez Kolomi, an Environmental Protection Agency official in Benisheik village.
"They are all travelers slaughtered by Boko Haram gunmen. We have so far picked up 143 corpses."
On Thursday, following a similar pattern, Boko Haram insurgents killed at least 16 people in an attack on travelers plying a highway from Maiduguri to Bamboa, a police source collecting bodies on the scene told Reuters.
Eyewitnesses said that uniformed gunmen stopped vehicles on the highway, ordered the passengers out and separated the women from the men before opening fire
or attacking them with knives, bayonets or even power tools. Some of the dead were travelling to the neighboring state capital of Yobe to make telephone calls, since phone lines in Borno had been shut down by security forces as a precaution.
A commercial cab driver, Sani Babayo, said it was another day of horror along the Kano-Maiduguri Highway.
"We thought they were soldiers because their uniforms, vehicles and guns suggested so," recalled Mr. Babayo. "But when they ordered us to come down from the vehicle and began to ask if we are residents of Maiduguri, it immediately dawned on us that we had fallen into the hands of Boko Haram.
"After separating the women and girls from the group, they ordered the men to run into the bush for our lives. No sooner had we started running than they opened fire on us. I saw many of my passengers fall after being hit by flying bullets. I kept running for my dear life until I was out of their range of fire."
Mr. Babayo, who looked dishevelled with tell-tale bruises on his skin and blistered feet, was among few of the very lucky travellers who escaped the Tuesday carnage. Many did not.
Most of the victims were those who had gone to make phone calls in the neighbouring Yobe State capital, Damaturu, 136 km from Maiduguri.
For four months now, telecom lines have been grounded as a security strategy to combat Boko Haram. Residents of Borno State, since the restoration of phones lines in Yobe State, had had to travel over there to make calls.
A young woman, Sarah Hyeladi, was returning to Maiduguri from Damaturu, where she and her elder brother, Markus, had gone to make phones calls when they encountered gunmen. Ms. Hyeladi was lucky but her elder brother was not.
"When our vehicle was stopped at about 6 p.m., and we saw how those ahead were being shot at, Markus and I had to run into the bush, but suddenly some uniformed gunmen appeared from the bush and ordered us to go back," Ms. Hyeladi recalled.
"We had to comply because one man was pointing a big gun at us. As we were going towards where people were being killed, one of the gunmen dragged Markus and put a knife on his neck. Before I could beg them to spare him, my brother was writhing on the floor in a pool of his own blood."
"Many people died from bullet wounds but a lot were killed by something that looked like an electric saw; the moment they put it on a person's neck, the head will go off," said a middle aged woman who was spared.
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency for northern Nigeria back in May after Boko Haram staged a series of attacks against schools and churches. The group is also believed to have carried out a number of bombings and jailbreaks closer to the Nigerian capital city of Abuja earlier this year.
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