MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — A Nigerian Islamic militant leader with an American $7-million bounty on his head boasts in a new video obtained Monday that he commanded the Oct. 23 battle that killed at least 127 people — a show of strength in the face of a nearly six-month-long military crackdown.
All but two victims were combatants killed during five hours of fierce fighting in the Yobe state capital, Damaturu. It was the first major attack in months on an urban center during an Islamic uprising that has terrorized northeast Nigeria.
Security forces swiftly freed major towns under the sway of the religious extremists after a state of emergency imposed in mid-May. But they have been struggling to hunt down Boko Haram militants in hideouts in local forests and caves and across borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger, from which they emerge to attack schools and villages. Hundreds of civilians, mainly Muslims, have been killed by the militants in recent weeks, with some 40 killed in recent days.
Abubakar Shekau's video, dubbed The Battle of Damaturu, shows the bearded extremist leader in military camouflage, cradling an AK-47 automatic rifle and speaking in Arabic, Hausa and his native Kanuri as he sings the praises of Allah. The United States put a reward of $7 million dollars on Shekau's head in June, indicating the importance they give to the uprising that poses the biggest threat in decades to Nigeria's security.
"My brethren, this is the story I want to tell my brothers and the whole world: All this weaponry that you are seeing — it is Allah who gave this to his worshippers who are fighting for Jihad — all this ammunition was obtained in just one place," Shekau says.
The blurry video pans to a masked fighter standing amid hundreds of guns and ammunition belts and scores of boxes — all of which Shekau claims was captured in Damaturu. He said he does not need to tell the world how many soldiers were killed and accuses the military of lying about its casualties.
Nigeria's military says it killed a total of 95 insurgents and lost 22 soldiers and eight police officers that day, when the insurgents set ablaze four police command posts and an army barracks. An AP reporter who visited the mortuary counted 17 bodies in police uniform and 31 bodies said to belong to extremists.
Meanwhile, at least another 40 civilians were killed and hundreds of homes set ablaze in attacks by suspected militants over the last several days, the chairman of Bama local council in Borno state, Baba Shehu Gulumba, told reporters Monday in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital that once was a stronghold of the group.
He said the attacks had huge economic costs with the worst fatalities in Bama town, where 27 civilians were killed on Thursday.
"Boko Haram burnt 300 houses, 20 shops, 204 livestock, 35 motorcycles, 15 cars , 250 sewing machines, 450 bags of cereal and cash estimated at 3.5 million naira (nearly $22,000)," in Bama, Gulumba said.
Another 13 people were killed at a highway junction in the area on Friday, he said. He appealed for more security forces to be deployed.
Bama, 70 kilometers (45 miles) from Maiduguri, is in the same area that suspected militants on Saturday attacked a wedding convoy, with authorities giving conflicting accounts of the death toll ranging from five to as many as 30, including the groom.
News of attacks is often slow to emerge since the military in May blocked cell phone services, saying the extremists were using the networks to coordinate attacks. Landlines don't work in Nigeria.
The battle in Damaturu overshadowed a major victory in which the military in neighboring Borno state said they bombed two "terrorist camps" and followed through with ground assaults that killed 74 insurgents while two soldiers were wounded.
AP photographer Sunday Alamba contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.