KANO - Nigeria's military has surrounded a village in the northeast to flush out Islamist rebels who fled there after reportedly snatching soldiers' wives and children during a daring attack on an army barracks nearby, witnesses told AFP Saturday.
Suspected Boko Haram fighters stormed the barracks in the town of Bama early on Friday, spraying it with bullets before torching the compound.
Several Bama residents told AFP the insurgents also abducted several of the soldiers' wives and children during the attack.
Asked about those details, northeastern military spokesman Mohammed Dole refered AFP to Nigeria's defence headquarters.
Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade could not be reached for comment.
Bama residents said the Boko Haram gunmen fled to the nearby village of Abbaram after the attack, where the military sent hundreds of troops on Saturday.
"The soldiers have besieged the village and more troops are deploying in hundreds," said Ibrahim Idris.
"Nothing is happening yet but from the huge number of troops deploying and the large number of Boko Haram in the village one can imagine what may happen".
Karim Bunu, who also lives in Bama, described Abbaram as a village of some 250 people.
"We are afraid of what will happen to the people of Abbaram because whichever way one looks at it, they are facing a serious security threat," he told AFP.
A third resident, who requested anonymity, said the Islamists were holding in Abbaram the "women and children of soldiers," who had been kidnapped during the Friday attack, in an account supported by both Idris and Bunu.
In November, Human Rights Watch reported that Boko Haram has increasingly used kidnappings as a tactic, abducting scores of women and children this year.
After staging an attack on the military, the insurgents typically flee to far away camps to evade pursuing troops, but their escape was slowed on Friday by fighter jets which dropped bombs on the major routes leading out of Bama, according to the military and witnesses.
"I counted 18 burnt all-terrain vans belonging to the Boko Haram gunmen pulverised by military jets," said the unnamed resident, who identified himself as a member of a military-backed vigilante force which has formed in the northeast to fight the insurgents.
Air force jets continued to fly over the region on Saturday, residents said.
The Bama attack was the second major Islamist assault on the army this month, casting further doubt on official claims that the rebels have been weakened by a seven-month-old military offensive in the northeast.
Boko Haram's four-year insurgency, which has killed thousands, is aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.
The group has been declared a terrorist organisation by the United States.