YOLA, Nigeria (AP) — Residents who feared for their lives and fled from Nigeria on Tuesday said that Boko Haram fighters are patrolling 50 kilometers (32 miles) of road between two of several towns the Islamic extremists have seized alongside northeast Nigeria's border with Cameroon.
Mubi, the town residents left, was a center for thousands of refugees trying to avoid fighting, but militants got too close Tuesday. Officials closed the Adamawa State University there, as Boko Haram fighters seized Mararaban Mubi, a village just outside of Mubi, in Adamawa state, according to a long-silent Boko Haram spokesman.
Abu Zinnira also denied military claims that soldiers have retaken the city of Bama, 75 kilometers (45 miles) from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state that is the birthplace of Boko Haram and headquarters of a faltering military campaign against the extremists.
Zinnira called journalists in Maiduguri on Monday night to rebut "the series of lies that the Nigerian military have been feeding the world on our recent conquests." Zinnira, a nom-de-guerre, had not been heard from in two years.
Military officers on Tuesday claimed to have retaken another fallen town — Bazza in Adamawa state, but there was no way to verify the report.
There had been fierce fighting around Bazza, led by a son of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was shot in both legs on Monday, according to hospital authorities who are treating him. Lt. Col. Adeboye Obasanjo is an army engineer
The United States announced last week it is launching a major border security program for Nigeria and its neighbors to help fight Boko Haram.
The fighting has spilled over into Cameroon, where residents of Mubi fled to. The Nigerian extremists at the weekend attacked the Cameroonian border town of Fotocol, across the border from Borno, but Cameroonian troops drove them off and killed about 100 of their fighters, Cameroon state radio reported.
Michika was taken Sunday, one of the latest in a string of towns stretching in an arc over 200 miles (320 kilometers) south from Gamboru-Ngala on Borno's border with Cameroon to Mararaban Mubi in Adamawa.
Boko Haram is known to have camps in Cameroon and has kidnapped people there for ransom in the past. But it has abandoned its hit and run strategy there as it has started holding onto land in Nigeria since it announced two weeks ago that it is carving out an Islamic caliphate.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 1.5 million people forced from their homes in the 5-year-old insurgency aimed at turning Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with its biggest economy, into a hard-line Islamic state. The 170 million people are divided almost equally between the mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Umar reported from Maiduguri, Nigeria.