AT LEAST 30 persons were feared killed in a gun duel on Monday between soldiers and members of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, at the Baga market in Maiduguri, Borno State.
Though the military boasted that it killed eight members of the sect and that no civilian was killed in the exchange, witnesses and medical accounts confirmed that the death toll included women and children.
The Maiduguri incident coincided with a revelation by the arrested spokesman for the sect, Abu Qaqa, that the Boko Haram leaders drive around town in expensive cars that were stolen.
Qaqa said that security agents were often intimidated to stop such cars “because they believe only big men have such cars and they are not checked.”
The sect members had reportedly stormed the Maiduguri market mid-afternoon on Monday and shot sporadically at traders, apparently to avenge the arrest of their members in the market last week.
The Boko Haram members had accused traders in the market of betraying their arrested members. The sect abhors betrayal and even visit death on any member that reneges.
The soldiers under the aegis of the special task force had appeared on the scene to repel the attack on the market.
The spokesman for the STF in the zone, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Mohammed, confirmed the incident.
“At about 1:30 (1230 GMT) this afternoon at Baga market of Maiduguri metropolis some gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram attacked and shot civilians at the market,” Mohammed, told the AFP.
He said several people had been wounded but that there was “no civilian death at this time”.
The military “immediately came to the rescue of the people and safely detonated three bombs planted by members of the sect and shot and killed eight members of the sect.”
However, AFP quoted one trader who gave his name as Mairami to have said that six gunmen stormed the food and commodities market and “opened fire indiscriminately. At least 30 people including women and children were killed.”
Another trader, simply identified as Gana gave a similar account of the attack in the city which is known as the stronghold of Boko Haram.
“The gunmen just opened fire, killing people. I saw three military vans piled with bodies leaving the market. There were several explosions after the shooting,” Gana said.
The attackers had accused traders of collaborating with the military following the arrest last week of a suspected Boko Haram member in the market, witnesses said.
Mairami said one gunman shouted angrily that traders had “teamed up with soldiers” to help arrest members of the sect.
“‘We have henceforth waged war against you’,” Mairami said the gunman had declared, before spraying bullets on both vendors and customers.
Last week, traders overpowered a gunman suspected to be a Boko Haram member and handed him over to the military.
Meanwhile, Qaqa, who is being detained by the State Security Service in Abuja, our correspondent gathered, told his interrogators that because the sect leaders drove in expensive cars, security agents often failed to check them.
The Boko Haram spokesman, it was learnt, also gave an insight into the operations of the sect, particularly how it got cars used for suicide bombing.
He reportedly told his interrogators that sect members snatched cars used by their leaders and the ones they used for suicide bombing.
“Those cars are snatched at gunpoint. We use less expensive ones for suicide ones, while expensive ones are used by leaders, who use them to deceive security agents.
“Most of the times, those security agents don’t check those cars because of corruption in the country and the feeling that people using such cars are ‘big men,” he reportedly said.
The Boko Haram spokesman was said to have stated that it was difficult for disgruntled members to leave the sect.
He said that such members were normally treated as traitors.