Boko Haram insurgents continue to carry out attacks outside the borders of Nigeria, where the group began.
The Islamists recently attacked two villages in northern Cameroon, close to the north-eastern border with Nigeria, leaving one person dead and many homes destroyed by fire.
The 23 February attack on Virkaza and nearby Tchebechebe was the fourth time Boko Haram has raided villages in Cameroon this year.
During the latest attack, militias set fire to more than 100 huts, a Catholic church and school. The fires claimed the life of one person, who has not yet been named.
Video shows homes in Virkaza, northern Cameroon, destroyed by fire during a Boko Haram attack, 23 February 2018
A survivor of the attack told World Watch Monitor what happened.
“They attacked Virkaza and Tchebechebe at about 8pm. We started hearing gunshots way before, but it seems that is when they started their attack. We saw the flames at about 8.30pm,” said the survivor, who did not want to be named.
A church leader in Tourou said he could see the fire 25km away.
According to the survivor, Boko Haram militants arrived in the villages “and simply did as they pleased. The army fired shots from afar and the attackers stopped their carnage for a while, but, when they couldn’t hear shots anymore, the attackers simply started burning again, attacking the two villages at the same time”.
There was no resistance from security forces because the area is “very difficult to access”, they said, and the insurgents left the area at around 2am “when they disappeared back across the Nigerian border”.
This latest attack is not the first time that Boko Haram has ventured beyond its borders.
In 2017 there were 32 attacks in Cameroon, two in Chad, and seven in Niger, according to the BBC. There were fewer cross-border attacks last year (41) than in 2016 (47), but the incursions were into the same three countries, all of which border north-eastern Nigeria – the group’s stronghold. There were 80 Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria in 2016, and 109 in 2017. Figures show a growing emphasis on the use of suicide attacks in both Nigeria and Cameroon.
Other attacks in northern Cameroon
Earlier in February, a Boko Haram attack in Gitawa left six dead, including a pregnant woman. Five of the victims were Christian.
The group claimed responsibility for the 15 January attack on Roum, which left four dead after the militants stormed the village and set fire to homes and two churches. On 17 January Boko Haram militants set fire to four houses in Dafidalo.
A church leader in the region told World Watch Monitor the attackers’ aim is to “push us out to occupy these zones”, and that they are seeking revenge for counter-attacks by government forces.
Another church leader, from Mozogo, said: “It is very difficult for the people here. They don’t have anything left for themselves. [Boko Haram] leave no house standing… They took away the money of the church, which was kept in safes… In the night, we just call on God to help us to see the day.”
Before this year’s cross-border attacks on Cameroon, the region had enjoyed a period of relative calm. The last attack was in August 2017 when Boko Haram kidnapped six siblings from Moskota, after killing their father. All the children, aged between three and 15, later managed to escape when their guard fell asleep. They were found by vigilantes and handed over to the Cameroon military.
Police reported that at least 13 people had been killed in clashes that broke out on Monday (26 February) between Christian and Muslim youths in Kaduna state. Police commissioner Austin Iwar said: “We don’t want to jump to conclusions as to what led to the mayhem. The speculation was that some Christian boys were not happy that their girls are befriending Muslim boys.”
Parts of Kaduna state lies in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region, where thousands of Christians have lost their lives in recent years in non-Boko Haram related violence. This has been marked by a growing number of attacks on Christian farmers by mainly Muslim Hausa-Fulani herdsmen. Last year researchers said that in 2016 violence in the Middle Belt had accounted for more deaths than those caused by Boko Haram.
110 schoolgirls still missing
Meanwhile, an attack on The Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapche, part of northern Nigeria’s Borno state, has led to fears of “another Chibok”.
Most of the 926 students escaped, were rescued or later returned to the school, but an estimated 110 girls are unaccounted for. According to Reuters, two girls were killed.
It took the Nigerian government a week to confirm that 110 girls had been kidnapped, reported AP, and only on Tuesday (27 February) were their names released.
Leah Sherubu is the only Christian student among the list of missing girls, in what is a Muslim-dominated area.
President Muhammadu Buhari said the kidnapping was a “national disaster” and apologised to the girls’ families.
The military said it withdrew from Dapchi weeks before the attack because the town was “relatively calm” and its troops were needed elsewhere.