MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Hundreds of Islamic militants in trucks and a stolen armored personnel carrier attacked an air force base on the outskirts of a Nigerian city before dawn Monday, officials and witnesses said, possibly leaving scores of people dead in one of the insurgent group's most daring attacks ever.
A military official who was at the base said he saw three aircraft and several vehicles hit in the attack. The state government quickly ordered everyone to stay home and extended a night-time curfew to 24 hours in Maiduguri, the city near the air base which is also the birthplace of the extremist Boko Haram movement.
Explosions and automatic gunfire could be heard across the northeastern city from around 2:30 a.m. when the insurgents launched the attack with screams of "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."
Government and military officials said scores of people may be dead. Reporters saw military ambulances ferrying bodies to the hospital morgue.
Civilians living around the military base, which is off a main road, said they saw bodies with slit throats and corpses of insurgents burning in vehicles.
The witnesses and officials spoke only on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
The attack comes a week after the military bombarded forest hideouts of the Boko Haram terrorist network near the border with Cameroon with air strikes and ground assaults.
President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in May in three states, acknowledging the insurgents had seized control of many towns and villages, and flooded the area with security forces. The military quickly forced the militants out of urban centers but have appeared unable to halt attacks on soft targets like schools, remote villages and major highways where they set up impromptu roadblocks.
The Islamic extremist uprising, which began in 2009 and has killed thousands, poses the biggest threat in decades to the security and cohesion of Africa's biggest oil producer and its most populous nation, with more than 160 million people. The nation is divided almost equally between the mainly Christian south and the predominantly Muslim north.
The extremists say they want to impose Islamic rule across all Nigeria.
In one of the group's highest-profile attacks, a Boko Haram member detonated a car bomb at the United Nations main offices in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, on Aug. 26, 2011, killing 25 people and wounding more than 100 others.