ABUJA (Reuters) – Lying in bushes by the side of a road, the security officer played dead and hoped the militants would mistake the blood pooling from a colleague’s body as his own. He did not risk looking up to see what was happening, but he could hear.
“We warned you civilians not to take part in elections, but you refused,” said a fighter loyal to the extremist group Islamic State. “Cut their throats.”
Kashim Shettima, governor of the war-torn northeastern Nigerian state of Borno, issued a statement two days later saying three people were killed when insurgents attacked his motorcade on route to an election rally.
But survivors of the Feb. 12 assault, along with two Nigerian and two international security personnel, put the toll much higher.
Reuters was unable to confirm precise figures. One survivor said he saw about 40 bodies; another estimated that as many as 100 died. The militants also took between 100 and 200 people captive, officials said.
The scale of the attack raises concern about the ability of militants from Boko Haram and a breakaway group calling itself Islamic State West African Province to disrupt voting in a delayed presidential election on Saturday, despite government assurances that only remnants of the insurgency remain.
“Islamic State and Boko Haram have over the past weeks ceaselessly warned locals that voting in the elections is tantamount to apostasy,” said Fulan Nasrullah, a researcher who tracks the groups at the Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation, a Nigerian-based think tank. “They have both explicitly threatened to attack the voters who go out to vote in these communities or who work with the electoral commission or otherwise carry out activities in support of the elections.”
Others interviewed by Reuters asked not to be identified because they said the government and military command had ordered them not to discuss the ambush, which could be damaging to both Shettima, a government politician, and Buhari. The president, who is seeking a second term, has vowed to defeat the insurgents once and for all.
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