At least nine Nigerian soldiers were reported dead Saturday as suspected Boko Haram insurgents ambushed a military van escorting travellers from Maiduguri to Damboa town, witnesses and security sources said.
The incident is the first in a long time that soldiers escorting travellers along that route would suffer such an attack.
Damboa, 85km south of Maiduguri, has been one of the most attacked local government headquarters in Borno State.
Although soldiers have been protecting the town from being attacked or seized by insurgents, the highway to Damboa, which also leads to Chibok local government has been considered one of the most dangerous roads in the state.
Everyday, vehicles conveying travellers to and from the route would have to queue up to be escorted by armed security personnel, including soldiers. The escort team would also be responsible for accompanying travellers coming to Maiduguri from either Chibok or Damboa.
On Saturday, travellers from Maiduguri reportedly ran into an ambush by Boko Haram who targeted the military escort van.
“It happened at about 2 p.m. when the convoy of travellers arrived Abbari village,” said a traveller who survived the attack.
“We were almost getting to Damboa when suddenly we heard some loud sound, and before one could figure out what was happening, we saw the escort vehicle up in flames and thick smoke. Then we began to hear sporadic shootings.”
The survivor, a 37-year-old male who requested anonymity due to security concerns, said all the passengers in the vehicles debarked and fled the scene.
“I know many soldiers may have died because the shooting at the military vehicle had hit it badly.”
A leader of the Civilian-JTF, Mr Bunu Malam, confirmed to reporters that nine soldiers died in the attack.
“We lost nine of our soldiers escorting travellers from Maiduguri to Damboa,” he said.
“The attackers had also gone away with a patrol vehicle belonging to our vigilante operatives who were also part of the escort team.”
The source said the attackers did not touch the civilian travelers.
The military has yet to comment on the matter. A text message to acting director Army Public Relations, Mr Sagir Musa, was not replied to Saturday night.