Nigerian soldiers patrol on October 12, 2019, after gunmen suspected of belonging to the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group carried out a deadly attack in the village of Tungushe, Borno state. AFP
Fighters from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) riding trucks fitted with machineguns stormed the town of Malam Fatori, in Abadam district, late Friday and early Saturday, they said.
"ISWAP terrorists attacked Malam Fatori and caused huge destruction which we are working to quantify," a military officer told AFP.
"They attacked the military base and engaged troops in a fight while a second group went on a killing spree and arson in the town," said the officer who asked not to be identified.
The first attack, near the Niger border, came at dusk Friday, leading to a fierce battle with soldiers who repelled the assault, said resident Buji Garwa.
In a predawn attack on the base and the town on Saturday, the jihadists hurled explosives and killed residents, while others drowned in a river trying to flee.
Death toll unclear
"It is not clear how many people were killed because we all fled the town and are now gradually returning to assess the damage," Garwa said, adding that a large part of the town had been set afire.
"We have started combing the bushes and picking (up) bodies of those killed and searching along the river banks to find those washed to the shores," he said.
Another resident, Baitu Madari, said she had counted a dozen people who were killed in her neighbourhood.
"I have no idea of the number of the dead bodies recovered in other parts of town. The destruction is really huge," she said.
According to an intelligence officer, the attackers came from nearby Kamuya village.
"Kamuya is the largest ISWAP camp in Lake Chad area which is just eight kilometres (five miles) from Malam Fatori," the source said.
"All the previous unsuccessful attacks on Malam Fatori were launched from Kamuya which is well fortified with mines and heavy weapons," he added.
Malam Fatori, 200 kilometres from the regional capital Maiduguri, on the fringes of Lake Chad, was seized by Boko Haram jihadists in 2014 but clawed back by the military in 2015.
A base was established in the town to repel attacks from ISWAP, which split from Boko Haram in 2016 and turned Lake Chad into a bastion.
In March, thousands of people who fled to Maiduguri and into neighbouring Niger were returned to Malam Fatori on the orders of the Borno state government, despite concern by aid agencies.
The jihadist conflict which broke out in 2009 has killed over 40,000 people and displaced around two million in the northeast.
The violence has spilled into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military force to fight the insurgents.