YOLA, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected Islamic militants attacked a wedding convoy in northeast Nigeria over the weekend, the latest in a storm of violence in the region as government troops battle religious extremists bent on turning Africa's most populous nation into an Islamic state. Authorities on Sunday gave conflicting accounts of the death toll, however — ranging from five to as many as 30, including the groom.
The attack took place Saturday on the highway between Gama and Gwoza towns in Borno state, military spokesman Lt. Col. Muhammed Dole said. That road runs alongside forests that are a known hideout of Islamic extremists from the Boko Haram network.
Dole put the death toll at five. However, Adamawa state spokesman Ahmad Sajoh said more than 30 people, including the groom, were killed. He did not explain where his information came from, but noted that the groom and his guests were from Adamawa, which neighbors Borno state, and had been driving home.
Meanwhile, a minibus taxi driver said he passed many bodies on the road near Firgi village in Borno, where the wedding ceremony was held. Firgi is near the border with Adamawa state.
"We saw a lot of dead bodies killed by gunshots and some by the roadside that appeared to have been slaughtered" with their throats slit, the driver, who asked to be identified only as Shaibu, told reporters Sunday in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. He did not say the exact number of bodies he saw.
Shaibu said his terrified passengers wanted to turn back, but "I took the risk ... and said God is in control."
Boko Haram is leading an uprising aimed at installing an Islamic state in Nigeria, possibly the greatest threat in decades to the cohesion of the West African country. Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer. Its population of more than 160 million people is divided almost equally between the mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south.
Last week, suspected extremists attacked a military checkpoint in the same area, and witnesses said they killed at least four security force members and made off with army vehicles, weapons and ammunition. The Nigerian military never confirmed nor denied that report.
The military is still battling the Islamic extremists more than five months after the government declared a state of emergency and flooded three states that cover one-sixth of the country with troops and police officers. The security forces have driven the insurgents from major towns and attacked bush camps with aerial bombardments and ground assaults. Hundreds of combatants and civilians, mainly Muslims, have died in recent weeks.
But military officials regularly downplay the number of people who die in attacks by extremists and inflate the number of insurgents said to have been killed. With cell phone contact in the area cut for months — the military said extremists were using the network to coordinate attacks — information is slow to come out and hard to independently confirm. Journalists also have limited access to the Internet.
Some reports have yet to be verified. The military claimed two months ago that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau "may have been killed" in an attack. When Shekau put out a video to prove he was alive, the military said it was investigating the video to see if someone was impersonating Shekau.
Associated Press writer Haruna Umar contributed to this report from Maiduguri, Nigeria