Rampage continues: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Photo: AFP
Dakar, Senegal: The Boko Haram men, disguised in army uniforms, gathered the villagers together and promised them protection.
Then, shouting "Allahu akbar," they opened fire, killing scores, according to three officials from the area, in north-east Nigeria along the country's border with Cameroon.
That massacre - on Tuesday morning in the village of Attagara - was the bloodiest in a series of attacks by the sect this week in Nigeria's far north, according to officials and Nigerian news reports, as the killings by Boko Haram continued unabated, and apparently unchecked by the country's military.
Gunmen also struck in the villages of Goshe, Agapalwa and Aganjara in the Gwoza district of Borno state late on Tuesday, razing homes, churches and mosques and killing residents who tried to flee the violence.
Some community leaders put the death toll in the attacks as high as 400 to 500, although there was no independent verification of the claim because of poor communications and difficulties by the emergency services in accessing the area.
"The killings are massive but nobody can give a toll for now because nobody has been able to go to that place because the insurgents are still there. They have taken over the whole area," politician Peter Biye said on Thursday. "There are bodies littered over the whole area and people have fled," added Biye, who represents Gwoza in Nigeria's House of Representatives.
Reports from the remote region near the border with Cameroon said that the insurgents continued their attack throughout Wednesday, stealing livestock and food and burning property.
The deadly assaults have become so pervasive that the officials spoke of Boko Haram having established virtual control over an entire area in the country's far north-east, and even hoisting their black flag in one village, Ashigashiya.
This week's attacks appeared to follow a familiar pattern of retaliation against villagers who resisted the sect, and the deadliest of them mimicked the mass abduction of schoolgirls in the same area in April that has focused global attention on Boko Haram - sect members in army uniforms lulled villagers, assembling them in a large group before mowing them down.
"They killed almost all the people that gathered together in the village," a man from Attagara said. He described himself as a "community leader," but declined to give his name.
"Some of the people, they tried to escape to the bush, and they followed them," he said. "Women that were carrying male children, they would kill the child."
"They burn the houses," he said. "They have burned my house. They have burned my everything."
The apparent lack of military intervention, even as the killings continued, was likely to raise renewed questions about the capacity of the Nigerian armed forces to confront the onslaught by Boko Haram. Foreign nations that are assisting the Nigerians in the hunt for the kidnapped schoolgirls have already raised such doubts, and now they are appearing in Nigeria as well.
This week, the military's spokesman was forced publicly to deny news reports that some senior army officers were being court-martialed for collusion with Boko Haram.
New York Times AFP