• 20 Boko Haram members killed in land and air strikes in Borno
• Fierce gun duel in Daura leaves 2 soldiers, 5 sect members dead
• UN: Sect members could face trial at War Crimes Tribunal
By Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri, Ibrahim Shuaibu in Katsina, John Shiklam in Kaduna, Damilola Oyedele and Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
At least 20 members of the extremist Boko Haram sect were yesterday killed by the military in a fierce battle at the Sambisa forest in Borno State, one of the strongest enclaves of the sect. This is in continuation of the land and aerial attacks launched on camps of the insurgents in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States by the military after the declaration of emergency rule on Tuesday.
Also yesterday, several people were killed in Daura, Katsina State, the hometown of former head of state, retired General Muhammadu Buhari, when armed men believed to be members of the Boko Haram sect struck in the area.
In a related development, the United Nations human rights office warned yesterday that members of the Boko Haram sect could face charges of crimes against humanity, while urging the government to ensure civilians are not swept up in an army counter-offensive.
Reports from the battle fields in Borno and Yobe were obtained by THISDAY from a top military source on a mobile phone line after security forces approved brief restoration of grounded GSM networks yesterday in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
The security source revealed that the grounding of the GSM networks were part of the military strategy to slow down the communication networks of the sect who are spread in camps in the forest of Sambisa, Mafa, Wulgo and Kirenowa axis of Borno State.
"So far so good, there has been positive progress in the ongoing operation in Sambisa and we are not pulling out until we are done with them. After a surprise raid yesterday, at least 20 of the terrorists were gunned down by our troops and several are running around the jungle with serious injuries," said the source.
The General Officer Commanding, 1 Division of the Nigerian Army, Kaduna, Major Gen. Garba A. Wahab who addressed news men in Kaduna on the Daura battle said three soldiers were killed while several members of the sect lost their lives.
The GOC said the incident started at about 10pm on Thursday through to Friday when the criminals, armed with sophisticated weapons, bombed three police stations and robbed four commercial banks in the town.
"At the end of the operation, even though it is still on, I lost three of my men, while two others, including an officer were wounded. I am not bothered about the casualties on the side of the criminals, but we have been able to recover four AK47 rifles from them," Gen. Wahab said.
He said another group of the criminals also engaged the police and the Civil Defence in a gun battle in the town adding that, the criminals, in their bid to escape had an accident leading to the death of three of them.
He said one of the vehicles, which the sect members were travelling in, was seen with a huge amount of money, "which must have been stolen from the banks".
The GOC said many of the culprits were injured and were still at large and appealed to the people of the area to report those who may be hiding in their homes to security agents.
"We don’t want a situation where people will be speculating. Yes, the criminals came, they bombed vehicles, and they packed money using improvised explosives devices in Daura. There are so many of them in Daura town right now and what we want to do is to appeal to the people of Daura that anybody with gunshot wounds should be reported. If they don’t, these are the same people who will turn back and attack the same town."
Spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said yesterday that "members of Boko Haram and other groups and entities, if judged to have committed widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population -- including on grounds such as religion or ethnicity -- could be found guilty of crimes against humanity".
"Deliberate acts leading to population cleansing on grounds of religion or ethnicity could also amount to a crime against humanity," he told reporters.
Colville underlined that UN rights chief Navi Pillay had repeatedly slammed the "cowardly attacks" by Boko Haram against civilians, politicians, the security forces and foreign nationals.
"We also call on the Nigerian government to make sure its efforts to achieve security are in full compliance with human rights principles," said Colville. We urge security forces and the military to respect human rights, and avoid excessive use of force when conducting operations, as these can all too easily feed local resentment, especially when civilians are killed or have their property damaged," he added.
Also speaking on the situation in Nigeria's north-east, United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, said in a press statement that the United States was concerned about allegations of abuse and the possibility of an escalation of the violence.
"The United States is deeply concerned about the fighting in northeastern Nigeria following President Jonathan’s declaration of a state of emergency in the Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. We are also deeply concerned by credible allegations that Nigerian security forces are committing gross human rights violations, which, in turn, only escalate the violence and fuel extremism.
"The United States condemns Boko Haram’s campaign of terror in the strongest terms. We urge Nigeria’s security forces to apply disciplined use of force in all operations, protect civilians in any security response, and respect human rights and the rule of law."
Meanwhile, the Global System of Mobile Communication network services were shut down in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states on Thursday and on Friday for strategic reason, a top military source revealed yesterday.
The source said the interruption of the network services of MTN, Airtel, Etisalat and Globacom in the three states became inevitable "In order to prevent the Boko Haram sect from communicating."
The services of MTN, Etisalat, Airtel GSM providers were however temporarily restored in the early hours on Friday but went off again in the afternoon.
It is believed that the sect has links in town who avails them with the troop deployment "and it is better to cut them off so that they can be caught unawares."
The security situation in Maiduguri, has been calm since the declaration of state of emergency by the President on Tuesday; there were no attacks and killings by the gunmen within the metropolis.
For three days running, there were also no reports of either attacks or killings from either the Police or Joint Task Force.
Governor Kashim Shettima and Barrister Mohammed Tahir Monguno, representing Monguno/Nganzai/Marte in the National Assembly have fully thrown their weights behind the imposition of state of emergency in the state.
Shettima had in statewide broadcast to the people on Wednesday said: "A period of state of emergency is that which comes with rules that are different from those that guide our day to day lives. We must therefore take personal steps as citizens, to avoid being caught by the strange rules."
In a related development, the Federal Government yesterday said the decision to include Adamawa State among those affected by the declaration of emergency rule was due the proximity of the state to Cameroun "where insurgents from the northern region have been working closely with the terrorist sect, Boko Haram."
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru who briefed the diplomatic corps in Abuja on the State of the Nation added that the decision to declare emergency rule in the affected states was taken mainly to protect all residents of the area - whether Nigerians or foreign nationals.
The Nigerian Army has also discovered a dangerous change of tactics by the members of Boko Haram Islamic sect who now use fake military camouflage uniforms to confuse security agents and unleash mayhem on the unsuspecting members of the public.
Insurgents in Daura were said to have adopted the tactic, during which two soldiers and five Boko Haram sect members were confirmed killed.
This was disclosed yesterday by the Director of Civil-Military Relations (DCMR), Maj-Gen Mobolaji Koleoso, who alerted members of the public in Abuja about the ugly development.