Boko Haram rebels have carried out their first attack inside neighbouring Chad, targeting a village on the shores of Lake Chad as part of a widening insurgency across four countries.
The Islamist fighters crossed the vast lake by boat at night to attack the village of Nougboua, across the water from the Nigerian town of Baga.
“They started firing on everything that moved,” the Chadian army spokesman Azem Bermandoa Agoun told national radio.
Two-thirds of Ngouboua, which has become a sanctuary for Nigerians fleeing attacks by Boko Haram, was burnt down in the onslaught, a security source said.
Chadian forces, backed by military aircraft, returned fire, routing the militants and destroying their vessels, the source said.
Chadian officials reported that one civilian – the village chief – and one soldier were killed in the attack, and four troops were wounded. Two Boko Haram fighters were killed and five injured. The security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, gave a higher Chadian death toll of four civilians, including the chief, and one soldier.
The attack marks a new escalation in Boko Haram’s deadly six-year campaign to establish a hardline Islamic caliphate in north-east Nigeria, which borders Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
The group has killed thousands of people since 2009. In the past few weeks it has increased its offensive both within Nigeria and against border towns of neighbouring countries, forcing Nigerian general elections that were scheduled for Saturday to be postponed by six weeks.
Faced with the growing regional threat from the jihadists, Chad, which had been spared from a Boko Haram attack on its own soil until Friday, has been at the forefront of a fightback.
Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger this month launched an unprecedented joint effort to crush the uprising, raising hopes that the insurgents – who have outgunned Nigeria’s national army – might finally have met their match.
But the UN envoy for west Africa said on Friday that Nigeria must show robustness in the campaign.
“They have to demonstrate greater resolve than has been the case so far in this fight against a serious enemy,” said Mohammed ibn Chambas.
On 3 February Chadian forces launched a ground intervention in the Nigerian border town of Gamboru. They succeeded in wresting the town from the Islamists but were left reeling a day later after Boko Haram carried out a retaliatory attack in Fotokol, on the Cameroonian side of the border, in which 19 Chadian and Cameroonian troops, and 81 civilians died.
The Islamists followed up last week with their first deadly raids in Niger, to Nigeria’s north. The militants repeatedly struck the border town of Diffa, after Niger announced it planned to send troops to Nigeria to combat them.
While engaging regional forces on several fronts Boko Haram continues to eye the key north-eastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
At least 21 people were killed in two separate attacks on Thursday in which homes and businesses were set alight in villages near Maiduguri, the community leader Mustapha Abbagini and a witness said.
Mbuta resident Hamidu Bukar said the gunmen accused locals of “spying for military authorities” and vowed to press on towards Maiduguri, where the group was founded in 2002 and which it has attacked at least twice since January.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber blew herself up at a crowded market in the town of Biu, in southern Borno state, killing at least 11 people, according to a hospital source and a vigilante helping the army.
The death toll could increase further, with health officials working to establish the identities of at least two other people killed by the blast.
The violence has loomed large over Nigeria’s election campaign, adding to tensions in what is shaping up as one of the closest races in years, pitting struggling incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who has vowed to vanquish Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s human rights commission reported on Friday that 58 people had been killed in pre-election violence and warned that rising hate speech between the rival camps threatened a significant escalation.
Isolated incidents of deadly unrest between rival factions, sometimes within the same party, were reported across the country.
The elections are now set for 28 March.
Source: The guardian