MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Nigeria's Islamic extremists intensified their propaganda war against the Nigerian military by releasing a video showing their fighters shooting confidently in the army's main barracks in northeastern Nigeria and meeting little resistance.
The video casts doubts on the military's insistence it has the insurgents on the run after a month of sustained aerial bombardments and ground assaults.
For its part the military reported that it defeated the militants who assaulted the Giwa Barracks on March 14 "with heavy human casualty on the terrorists," said Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade. The barracks are in Maiduguri, birthplace of the Boko Haram terrorist network, capital of Borno state and headquarters of the security forces offensive.
There is no way to independently verify the claims of either side and both are given to exaggeration and even fabrication.
The video, released Monday by the Boko Haram terrorist network, starts with turbaned fighters in military trucks with mounted submachine guns driving up to the barracks and firing rockets and rocket-propelled grenades. They provide cover as fighters on foot break through a barbed wire fence and a barrier of mounds of sand.
Once inside the barracks, the fighters stroll with rifles casually pointed at the ground as others set ablaze scores of vehicles, according to the video footage. One shot shows militants trying to set fire to a tank, and another group taking off in an armored personnel carrier.
Then, hundreds of people are seen running — billows of black smoke from the burning vehicles in the background — who the video identifies as detainees freed from the barracks' notorious detention center. Many are emaciated and they include some women and children. Islamic militants among them shout "Allahu akhbar!"
Speaking in the film, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claims to have freed 2,000 fighters.
Brig. Gen. Olukolade's statement characterized the attack as a desperate attempt "to boost their depleted stock of fighters" diminished by military victories.
Amnesty International has reported that hundreds of people have died at Giwa detention center, from extrajudicial shootings, untreated injuries from beatings, starvation or crushed to death in overcrowded cells. An Associated Press investigation found the military killed thousands of detainees last year, according to mortuary records from just one Maiduguri hospital.
Witnesses have told the AP that the 5-hour-long assault on Giwa Barracks ended only when an Air Force jet flew in to strafe attackers. The jet also bombed and destroyed homes in the Fuori district of Maiduguri that had been infiltrated by the insurgents. The jet attack killed a 3-year-old girl who was hiding in her home with her parents, said witnesses.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.