NGOUBOUA, Chad (Reuters) - Boko Haram fighters attacked a village in Chad on Friday, the first known lethal attack in that country by the Nigerian militant group, which killed several people including a local chief according to residents and security forces.
Dozens of militants arrived by motorised canoe at the fishing village of Ngouboua on the shores of Lake Chad early in the morning, setting houses ablaze and attacking a police station before being driven back by the army.
“Over here one of my neighbour’s throat was slit. Over there a woman burned to death inside her house,” a local mechanic who gave his name as Mallaye told Reuters as he stood amid burned out cars and dead goats in the ruins of his garage.
Among those present in Ngouboua, located about 20 km (12 miles) east of the Nigerian border, were thousands of refugees who fled there in early January after an attack on the Nigerian town of Baga.
Militants from the Sunni jihadist group, based in northern Nigeria less than 100 kilometres from the Chadian capital, have stepped up cross-border attacks in recent weeks in their campaign to carve out an Islamist emirate around the Lake Chad area which borders Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Security sources have quietly warned of sleeper cells nestled in Lake Chad - a vast maze of tiny islands and swamp.
A spokesman for the armed forces said that five people were killed on Friday, including local chief Mai Kolle, a police officer and three civilians. He said two of the attackers were also killed.
A local government official later put the civilian death toll at seven.
General Bayana Gossingar, the governor of Chad’s Lake Region, said during a visit to the village that Chadian forces were carrying out clean-up operations on the lake, adding that military aircraft had destroyed the canoes used in the attack.
“It was a publicity stunt. They wanted to show that they can strike on our territory,” he said.
Boko Haram fighters are believed to have been behind an earlier attack on another Chadian village called Kantarom. Though the incident occurred last month, it only came to light on Friday. A report that three people were killed there could not immediately be confirmed.
Residents are now fleeing Ngouboua and a Chadian humanitarian vehicle was attacked as it tried to escape, United Nations refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
“I don’t want to stay here anymore,” said a Nigerian refugee named Halima, waiting with her children and meagre belongings for a truck to take her out of town. “I fled Baga to come to Ngouboua and here too Boko Haram are attacking.”
In Niger, thousands fled the border town of Diffa this week after a wave of raids and suicide attacks. Boko Haram insurgents, including a suspected female suicide bomber, also attacked one town and two villages in Nigeria’s Borno state on Thursday, killing at least 31 people according to security, hospital sources and witnesses.
Nigeria has postponed a presidential election, that had been due on Saturday, for six weeks, citing the security threat from Boko Haram.
Chad’s army, one of the best in the region, has joined a regional offensive against Boko Haram and says it has killed hundreds of fighters in the past fortnight.
Chad is also the base for a French regional counter-insurgency operation called “Barkhane”, which provides intelligence and logistical support to the Chadian army.
Additional reporting by Lanre Ola in Bauchi, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Emma Farge in Dakar; Writing by Emma Farge and Joe Bavier; Editing by Peter Graff