MAIDUGURI, Nigeria -- Fighters from Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group seized the northeastern town of Gwoza, overwhelming soldiers based in the area before attacking civilians, security officials and a witness said Thursday.
The whereabouts of the new Emir of Gwoza, Muhammed Idrissa Timta, were unknown after attackers were seen approaching his residence during the attack on Wednesday, the resident said. Timta succeeded his father who was killed by Boko Haram in May.
"I have attempted talking to the Emir on phone it was not going through, I do pray and hope he is alive," Muhammed Ali Ndume, a senator from Gwoza representing Southern Borno, which includes the town, told journalists by phone on Thursday.
Residents have fled to mountainous areas near the town. A resident said gunmen who attacked Gwoza were dressed in military fatigues and rode vehicles painted in the same colors. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.
Two security officials confirmed the attack, but could not be named because they weren’t authorized to speak to media.
"I could communicate now because most of us are up in the mountains, many may have been killed, but from top of the hills here we still could see the Boko Haram gunmen moving around in some armored tanks with metal wheels," the resident said. A friend of his was shot dead from behind as they were fleeing.
"We can’t tell what will happen to us by night; the entire town is now taken over by the terrorists," said the resident.
Boko Haram has been waging a violent campaign since 2009, and has intensified its attacks against civilians this year. More than 4,000 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed this year alone "by all sides" of the conflict, including in counter attacks of security forces against the group, according to Amnesty International.
This compares to an estimated 3,600 people killed in the first four years of the Islamic extremist insurgency.