Eyewitnesses have told the Associated Press that Islamic extremist group Boko Haram attacked the northeastern Nigerian town of Damboa before dawn on Friday, "piling up corpses" and setting half the town, just 53 miles from Borno state capital Maiduguri, ablaze.
Residents had been preparing for the 5 a.m. prayers when the group attacked. The civilian defense fighters had only clubs and homemade shotguns to fight back, according to the AP.
This attack follows two weeks of violence surrounding Damboa, which began when the extremists attacked a new tank battalion base on July 4. Though the Defense Ministry reported a win, saying they killed 50 insurgents and repelled the attack, locals told the AP the soldiers had actually been driven from the base and that extremists have twice ambushed military convoys attempting to reenter in the past week.
The efforts of Boko Haram (which means "Western education is sinful") have resulted in thousands of deaths in recent years. In April, the group abducted more than 200 girls from their boarding school in Chibok. The U.S., U.K., China, France, and Israel have sent military assistance to help Nigeria rescue the schoolgirls.
"If you're looking for logic and clarity and well-thought-out strategy in a group like Boko Haram, you're going to come up wanting," journalist Alex Perry, author of the Newsweek cover story on the group and of the e-book The Hunt for Boko Haram: Investigating the Terror Tearing Nigeria Apart, told NPR. "This is not smart jihadi thinking. These guys are really badly educated. They're dumb, essentially."
There have been an estimated 92 Boko Haram attacks during the first half of 2014, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. The group aims to enforce and Islamic state, despite Nigeria being home to a Christian majority in its population of 170 million.
A report released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in June showed the extent of Boko Haram's violence and the movement of Nigerians:
Nigeria has Africa's largest internally displaced population, and the group's bloody insurgency has forced about 250,000 Nigerians to flee their homes toward the west in the past 10 months.