MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Suspected Islamist militants killed 44 people when they attacked a village in northeast Nigeria earlier this week, emergency and security sources said on Friday.
The assault on Demba village was close to Baga town in northeast Borno state, which was a stronghold of Islamist sect Boko Haram until a military crackdown in mid-May pushed many militants into hiding or across the Cameroon border.
The attack happened on Monday but details are only just emerging because the area is remote and phone lines have been cut off by authorities to disrupt Boko Haram’s activities.
The sect wants to impose Islamic law in Nigeria’s north, and, alongside other spin-off Islamist groups, has become the biggest threat to stability in Nigeria.
“They set houses ablaze, shot people and even slit some people’s throats,” an emergency worker told Reuters, asking not to be named to ensure his safety.
A local security source confirmed the death toll. The defence headquarters did not respond to a request for comment.
The attack happened the same day the military said the group’s bellicose leader Abubakar Shekau might have died between July 25 and August 4 from gunshot wounds inflicted in a gun battle with security forces.
Shekau’s alleged death has done little to quell the insurgency but Boko Haram’s capabilities appear weakened since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in northern Nigeria’s three worst-affected states and launched an offensive against them in May.
Baga was the scene of a clash between a multinational force of soldiers from Nigeria, Chad and Niger, and the Islamists that killed dozens of people in April - the army said 37 people were killed, but local leaders said around 185, most of them civilians, died in the violence.
Boko Haram fighters killed a further 20 civilians in Baga last month, the military said.
Reporting by Lanre Ola; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Pravin Char and David Evans