MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Suspected Islamic militants wearing army fatigues gunned down 44 people praying at a mosque in northeast Nigeria, while 12 other civilians died in an apparently simultaneous attack, security agents said Monday.
Sunday’s attacks were the latest in a slew of violence blamed on religious extremists in Nigeria, where the radical Boko Haram group poses the greatest security threat in years.
It was not immediately clear why the Boko Haram –which wants to oust the government and impose Islamic law –would have killed worshiping Muslims, but the group has in the past attacked mosques whose clerics have spoken out against religious extremism. Boko Haram also has attacked Christians outside churches, as well as teachers, schoolchildren and members of the government and military.
Since 2010, the militants have been blamed for the killings of more than 1,700 people, according to a count conducted by the Associated Press.
The news about Sunday’s violence in Borno state, one of three in the northeast under a military state of emergency, came as journalists received a video featuring Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who gloats over recent attacks, threatens more, and even says his group is now strong enough to go after the United States.
The mosque slayings occurred Sunday morning in Konduga town, 22 miles outside Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
A state security service agent and Usman Musa, a member of a civilian militia that works with the military, said Monday that they counted the bodies at the mosque after the attack. Musa said four members of his group — known as the Civilian Joint Task Force — also were killed when they reached Konduga and encountered “fierce resistance from heavily armed terrorists.”
Musa and the security service agent said the attackers wore military camouflage uniforms used by the Nigerian army, which they may have acquired in one of their attacks on military bases.
On their way back from Konduga, the security forces came upon the scene of another attack at Ngom village, three miles outside Maiduguri, where Musa said he counted 12 bodies of civilians.
Twenty-six worshipers at the mosque were hospitalized with gunshot wounds, said a security guard at the emergency ward of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital. He and the state security agent both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to give information to reporters.
Nigeria declared a state of emergency in much of the northeast on May 14 to fight the onslaught after Boko Haram fighters took over several northeastern towns and villages in this West African nation of more than 160 million people, which is divided almost equally between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south.
In the video received by journalists Monday, Shekau brushes off any gains asserted by the security forces.
“You soldiers have claimed that you are powerful, that we have been defeated, that we are mad people,” Shekau says, speaking in the local Hausa language. “But how can a mad man successfully coordinate recent attacks in Gamboru, in Malam Fatori, slaughter people in Biu, kill in Gwoza and in Bama, where soldiers fled under our heavy firepower?
“We have killed countless soldiers and we are going to kill more.”
He further insists the extremists’ “strength and firepower has surpassed that of Nigeria…. We can now comfortably confront the United States of America.”