By Olaolu Bilau with agency reports
Boko Haram has launched a fresh attack on Maiduguri with some of residents who are attending Sunday church service fearing for their lives.
The fresh attack is coming two weeks before national elections.
Four residents of Maiduguri told AFP that Sunday’s fighting began at roughly 3:00 am (0200 GMT) with loud explosions and gunfire, as the Islamists tried to enter the city from the south.
After heavy fighting in the Mulai area just three kilometres south of the city, troops backed by vigilantes repelled the attack, but the militants then began a separate assault to the east and gun battles were ongoing, multiple witnesses said.
“The gunmen were initially subdued in Mulai, but now they have changed strategy and are attacking through the Damboa road (to the east),” said local Bukar Mungono, in an account supported by two others. “Fighting is still going on.”
The Islamist rebels tried to capture Maiduguri just a week ago, but were repelled by troops.
The military was not immediately available to comment on the latest raid.
“The whole city is in fear,” said resident Adam Krenuwa. “People are afraid of what will happen if Boko Haram defeats the security forces.”
Losing control of Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, would be an enormous defeat for the security forces, whose handling of the six-year Islamist uprising has been fiercely criticised.
The city’s fall would also likely spark a humanitarian disaster.
Maiduguri’s population is believed to have swelled above two million in recent weeks as residents from other parts of Borno have been forced to flee to the city to seek refuge from Boko Haram violence.
Resident Fannami Dalwaye said people from the Mulai area ran towards the city-centre as the violence raged earlier on Sunday.
“Some of us are in mosques praying, just waiting to hear the outcome of what happens,” Krenuwa told AFP.