Boko Haram 'open fire on dozens' in NE Nigeria raid

A screen grab made on January 20, 2015 from a video of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram obtained by AFP shows the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, holding a flag as he delivers a message (AFP Photo/)

Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) - Suspected Boko Haram gunmen opened fire on villagers and torched a number of buildings in a new attack in northeast Nigeria, witnesses said Monday.

Resident Ahmad Ali told AFP that roughly two dozen assailants, who were "obviously Boko Haram fighters" stormed the village of Kwajaffa at dusk on Sunday and ordered residents out of their homes.

Locals thought the Islamist insurgents "were going to preach and leave", but in fact they "opened fire on the crowd", Ali said.

Ali said the death toll likely passed two dozen but no other eye witnesses could be reached immediately to confirm the figures.

"They then went on setting fire to homes, burning half of the village before they left," he added.

Kwajaffa lies in the southern part of Borno state, one the regions hit hardest during Boko Haram's deadly six-year uprising.

Details of attacks often take time to emerge, given the poor communications infrastructure in the embattled region.

Babagana Mustapha said a relative who fled the attack in Kwajaffa arrived at his home in southern Borno's commercial hub of Biu, 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Kwajaffa, at 11:30 pm (1030 GMT) on Sunday.

This relative reported similar details concerning the attack, including a number of casualties, Mustapha told AFP.

Nigeria's military -- backed by forces from Chad, Niger and Cameroon -- has claimed huge victories over Boko Haram in the northeast over the last two months, retaking a series of towns and villages previously under rebel control.

But experts have warned that hit-and-run attacks by the group could increase amid the added military pressure.

The Islamist militants killed seven people going to a market in southern Chad on Friday, and then set improvised landmines on the road close to the Nigerian border.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's perceived mishandling of the Islamist insurgency was seen as a main reason for his overwhelming defeat in the northeast in last month's general elections.

Nigeria's president-elect Muhammadu Buhari will not take charge of the fight against Boko Haram until late May, but he has vowed to be a more effective commander-in-chief than Jonathan, in part by ensuring that the military is properly funded and equiped.

Aside from the use of force, Buhari has pledged to use so-called "soft power" to stem the killing, including much-needed development programmes targeted specifically at the impoverished region.