MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Nigeria's military declared a 24-hour curfew Saturday on neighborhoods in a northeastern city that's the spiritual home of an Islamic extremist network as soldiers continued the government's emergency campaign against insurgents in the region.
A statement Saturday on behalf of Lt. Col. Sagir Musa named 11 areas of Maiduguri where people must remain inside their homes until further notice. Musa said it was part of the military's push since President Goodluck Jonathan issued an emergency decree Tuesday allowing soldiers to arrest people at will and take over buildings suspected to house extremists in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
Soldiers arrested some 65 suspected extremists who were "attempting to infiltrate Maiduguri" after military strikes on camps in a nearby forest reserve, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade said in a statement Saturday. Olukolade said soldiers killed another 10 suspected extremists in Maiduguri's Gamboru neighborhood, one of the areas now under curfew.
There was no independent confirmation of the arrests nor the killings. An Associated Press journalist in Maiduguri saw roadblocks manned by soldiers in the city, as well as trucks lined up outside the city, apparently blocked by the military from entering.
Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, once was home to the main mosque of Boko Haram. Nigeria's Islamic extremist insurgency grew out of a 2009 riot led by Boko Haram members in Maiduguri that ended in a military and police crackdown that killed some 700 people. The group's leader died in police custody in an apparent summary execution, fueling dissent that broke into the open in 2010 with the targeted killings of government officials, security agents and religious leaders who spoke out against the sect. The killings gradually morphed into the large-scale extremist network that is plaguing Nigeria today.
Soldiers backed by jet fighters and military helicopters have flooded into the northeast since Jonathan's order Tuesday. On Thursday, soldiers attacked suspected camps sheltering insurgents in a forest reserve south of Maiduguri. At least 21 suspected extremists died in the attack, an official told the AP on Friday. The military said it destroyed the extremists' equipment and gasoline supplies.
On Saturday, Olukolade asked the public to inform authorities if they saw anyone attempting to gather large quantities of gasoline.
"Some of the fleeing insurgents from various camps have been noted to be in search of fuel," the brigadier general said.
This new military campaign comes on top of a previous massive deployment of soldiers and police to the region. That deployment failed to stop violence by Islamic extremists, who have killed more than 1,600 people since 2010, according to an AP count. It also has seen soldiers arrest, torture and even kill civilians.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north, has said it wants to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria and wants the government to release all of its imprisoned followers. Boko Haram has sparked splinter groups like Ansaru, which has kidnapped foreign hostages. Analysts and diplomats also say the network has loose ties to two other Al Qaeda-influenced groups on the African continent.