BAUCHI, Nigeria (AP) — Residents of a Nigerian town attacked by Boko Haram criticized security forces for failing to protect them despite warnings that the Islamic militants were nearby. At least 50 bodies have been recovered, many horribly burned, in the town.
The attack on Gamboru, in remote northeastern Nigeria near the border with Cameroon, is part of the Islamic militants' relentless campaign of terror at a time when world attention is focused on the 276 teenage girls who are missing after being kidnapped from their boarding school by the extremists. The students are believed to be held by Boko Haram in the vast Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria.
The death toll from the Monday afternoon attack in Gamboru was initially reported by a senator to be as many as 300, but a security official said it is more likely to be around 100. Some Gamboru residents said bodies were recovered from the debris of burned shops around the town's main market, which was the focus of the attack.
The bodies were found after the market reopened on Wednesday as health workers, volunteers and traders searched for missing people, said Gamboru resident Abuwar Masta. He said most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. Some of the victims were traders from Chad and Cameroon, he said.
"It seems they hid in the shops in order not (to) be killed while fleeing," Masta said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, several explosives were thrown into the market."
Masta and other traders said that some villagers had warned the security forces of an impending attack after insurgents were seen camping in the bush near Gamboru.
The kidnapping of the schoolgirls on April 15 in the town of Chibok have sparked accusations that the Nigerian government is not doing enough to stop the militants. Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people so far this year as part of their campaing to impose Islamic law on Africa's most populous nation, which has 170 million people equally divided between Christian and Muslim.
Outrage over the missing girls and the government's failure to rescue them brought angry Nigerian protesters into the streets this week, an embarrassment for the government of President Goodluck Jonathan which had hoped to showcase the country's emergence as Africa's largest economy as it hosted the Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum, the continent's version of Davos. That meeting is ongoing in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, which also has been the scene recently of two bomb blasts blamed on Boko Haram.
Nigeria's military said in a statement Thursday that the armed forces are "focused on the task of rescuing the abducted girls and that the war on Boko Haram "will be effectively prosecuted."
On Thursday the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, said acts such as the mass abduction of girls "shock the conscience of humanity" and could constitute crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of The Hague-based court.
"No stone should be left unturned to bring those responsible for such atrocious acts to justice either in Nigeria or at the ICC," she said in a statement.
The homegrown terror group was largely contained to the northern part of Nigeria before expanding its reach with the help of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the terrorist network's affiliate in West Africa, which trained Boko Haram fighters in its camps in southern Somalia, beginning in 2010.
Although Boko Haram has killed thousands of people — Christians as well as Muslims — over the years in a campaign of bombings and massacres, the group's mass abduction of schoolgirls appears to have galvanized global attention and prompted offers of security assistance from foreign countries to help rescue the girls.
The U.S. announced on Tuesday it was sending personnel and equipment to help Nigerian security forces.
Jonathan confirmed that he has accepted the American assistance, which the Pentagon said Wednesday will include communications, logistics and intelligence planning, but will not include any military operations. Britain and China said Nigeria had accepted their offers of help, and France said it was sending in a "specialized team" to help with search and rescue of the girls.
The office of the United Nations spokesman in New York said Jonathan on Thursday accepted U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's offer to send a high-level representative to Nigeria to discuss how the U.N. can support efforts to tackle the country's "internal challenges."
Associated Press reporter Michael C. Corder at The Hague and Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.