Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) - Boko Haram gunmen have mounted their first attacks since Nigeria's government declared the Islamist group "technically" defeated, killing seven people in a raid and suicide bombing, residents told AFP Wednesday.
The attacks happened on Tuesday in the northeastern state of Borno, near the group's Sambisa Forest hideout, where the army is looking to flush out remnants of the rebel group.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who has made crushing the rebellion a priority, in December said a sustained counter-offensive had reduced the group's ability to strike effectively.
The first attack happened in Izgeki village, said one resident, who gave his name as Isyaku, from the town of Mubi in neighbouring Adamawa state.
"I received information from my relatives who fled the attack... that some Boko Haram gunmen on bicycles attacked Izgeki across the river from Izghe on Tuesday morning where they killed two people.
"The attack forced villagers to cross the river into Izghe. The gunmen pursued them. One of them who had a suicide belt on him blew himself up near the market, killing five people."
Izghe was previously attacked in February 2014 where more than 100 people were killed as the rebels torched homes, opened fire and set off explosives.
Thousands of residents fled the attack into Adamawa towards the town of Madagali and elsewhere but following the army's recapture of territory, some managed to return and begin reconstruction.
Izghe is in the district of Gwoza, which Boko Haram captured in August 2014 and which the group's shadowy leader Abubakar Shekau declared the centre of its self-styled caliphate.
Ayuba Chibok, an elder in the town of the same name, said there was also an attack in the nearby village of Nchiha at about 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Tuesday.
"Luckily no-one was hurt but they (Boko Haram gunmen) looted food and burnt a large part of the village," he added. Residents managed to flee.
Boko Haram kidnapped some 276 girls from their school in Chibok in April 2014 in a daring raid that captured world attention. Fifty seven escaped soon afterwards but 219 are still being held.
- On the back foot -
Buhari set his military commanders a deadline to end the insurgency by December 31, after six years of fighting that have left at least 17,000 dead and made more than 2.6 million homeless.
AFP reporting of attacks indicated at least 1,624 people were killed since Buhari was sworn in as president on May 29 to the end of 2015.
The wisdom of setting a time limit, however, has been questioned with Boko Haram still conducting suicide and bomb attacks against civilian targets in towns and cities across the northeast.
Continued raids on remote rural villages have been seen as a sign the group's supply lines have been cut.
On December 24, Buhari said in an interview the Islamic State group affiliate was now unable to mount effective "conventional attacks".
"I think technically we have won the war because people are going back into their neighbourhoods," the former army general and military ruler told the BBC.
Jacob Zenn, an Africa security analyst at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, said Buhari's strategy was working but warned the group was not defeated.
"Even if the Islamists appear to be on the back foot in Nigeria, this does not mean permanent defeat," he wrote on the African Arguments website on Tuesday.
"Boko Haram may go into hiding like it did after the State of Emergency offensive in 2013 in anticipation that the security forces will let down their guard over time...
"The threat from Boko Haram has ebbed and flowed in the past five years and while Boko Haram is now on the downturn, the military group may have new tactics and strategies as well as a plan to return stronger than before.
"Nigeria's security forces will need to anticipate this."