ISIS jihadists have taken hundreds of people hostage after a ferocious firefight with soldiers guarding a Nigerian town.
Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP, rolled into the town of Kukawa in the Lake Chad region in 22 trucks at around 4pm on Tuesday.
“The terrorists engaged soldiers guarding the town in a fierce battle,” said Babakura Kolo, head of a local militia.
The people of Kukawa had only returned to their hometown two weeks ago after spending the last two years living in a refugee camp near the Borno state capital following a bloody attack on their settlement in November 2018.
They were provided a military escort and ordered to leave the refugee camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri, 120 miles away, by Borno state authorities on August 2.
A local chief who accompanied the residents to the town said the people had returned with the hope of cultivating their farmlands “only to end up in the hands of the insurgents”.
“We don’t know what they would do to them but I hope they don’t harm them,” said the chief, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons.
A security source who confirmed the incident to AFP said fighter jets were deployed from Maiduguri on Wednesday to ‘tackle the situation’, without giving details.
The decade-long jihadist conflict has forced around two million out of the homes, most of them from the northern part of Borno.
Many have moved into squalid displacement camps in Maiduguri, where they rely on handouts from international charities.
In the last two years, local authorities have been encouraging the displaced to return home, despite concern by international charities that this is not safe.
Residents have been returned to five major towns since 2018, where they are confined under military protection, with trenches dug around towns to try to fend off jihadist raids.
Despite the fortifications, the insurgents have continued to launch attacks.
Residents who venture out to work on their farms or collect firewood have been killed or abducted.
The United Nations last Friday said 10.6 million out of the 13 million people in the conflict-ravaged states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe would need humanitarian assistance this year.
It said the figures represented a 50-percent increase since last year, and the highest tally since the beginning of the joint humanitarian response five years ago.