Nigerian troops supported by civilian vigilantes on Tuesday revealed that they had killed more than 70 Boko Haram fighters in a foiled attack to capture the strategic town of Konduga near Maiduguri.
A would-be suicide bomber was also shot and killed before he could bump his explosives-laden car into a military checkpoint in the town during the attack on Monday, witnesses said.
Around 150 Boko Haram fighters entered the fishing town with a large herd of cattle pretending to be herders and opened fire on troops stationed in the town, leading to a six-hour gun battle.
Speaking to AFP after the foiled attempt, a civilian vigilante Butari Mala said “At the last count 73 Boko Haram gunmen were killed in the foiled attack.”
“Among those killed was a suicide bomber who was shot inside his car loaded with explosives before he could reach his target,” he said.
“The rest fled into the bush but were pursued and bombarded by a fighter jet that deployed from Maiduguri.”
A military source in Maiduguri, who requested anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media, confirmed Mala’s account, including the death toll.
The attack happened at about 7:00 am (0600 GMT) and the gunmen abandoned the cattle as they approached a military post, said Konduga resident, Abba Kaka.
“Unknown to the Boko Haram gunmen herdsmen in Konduga had been asked to keep away from some designated no-go areas,” he added.
“So when the gunmen came in through these designated areas it was clear to soldiers they were not genuine herdsmen and they met the soldiers waiting for them,” Kaka said by telephone from Maiduguri.
Soldiers and vigilantes have repelled more than a dozen attacks by Boko Haram on Konduga, which is some 35 kilometres (21 miles) southeast of Maiduguri.
Troops and vigilantes have been stationed in Konduga to prevent it from being used as a launch-pad to attack the Borno state capital, where the group was founded in 2002.
The latest defence of the town comes after a number of claimed Nigerian military successes, including the recapture of the town of Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad.
Soldiers, backed by armies from neighbouring countries have been involved in a fight-back against the militants, whose attacks have threatened regional security and upcoming elections in Nigeria.