Aid groups in Nigeria said Wednesday six civilians died in an attack claimed by an Islamic State affiliate on a northeastern town that, according to the UN, “directly targeted” aid facilities.
The attack launched late on Monday was claimed by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group, which split from mainstream Boko Haram in 2016, saying it killed two soldiers, burnt down a military base and a UN building.
“At least six civilians lost their lives in crossfire, several others were injured and are still missing,” said a statement by the Nigeria INGO Forum, gathering international charities such as the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and 52 others.
According to the coalition of NGOs, there was a second attack on Tuesday.
Two security sources and a humanitarian source who requested anonymity told AFP that the insurgents were able to take control of the town for several hours between Monday evening and mid-day Tuesday.
Dikwa hosts one of the military’s large “super camps” as well as one of nine “humanitarian hubs” — where humanitarians live and work.
Both were attacked, multiple sources said, but the Nigerian army claimed it “repelled” the attackers.
“The terrorist groups who stormed the town in an unconfirmed number of gun trucks and motorcycles were visited with heavy bombardment and overwhelming firepower,” army spokesman Mohammed Yerima said in a statement.
“The situation in Dikwa is normal,” Yerima told AFP by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Last week, ISWAP had already raided the town, dislodging troops and sending residents fleeing.
The UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said on Tuesday the insurgents had “directly targeted” aid facilities in Dikwa, affecting efforts to help nearly 100,000 people in need.
“The Dikwa hospital was set on fire,” the Nigeria INGO Forum said, adding that “the full scale of the attack’s impact on civilians… is still being assessed.”
A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told AFP it was providing support for six people who were injured in Dikwa.
Neither the army nor the government have released an official death toll.
Dikwa, 90 kilometres (56 miles) from the provincial capital Maiduguri, is home to nearly 114,000 people including 75,470 internally displaced persons (IDPs) — people who have fled their homes because of conflict.
“Many of those IDPs have already been subjected to multiple displacement, including over 3,000 IDPs who, only two weeks ago, fled Marte (in the same region)… due to another attack,” the Nigeria INGO Forum said.
On February 15, ISWAP took control of the town of Marte, which also hosts a “super camp”, for several hours, killing eight soldiers, according to military sources.
Since 2019, three humanitarian hubs – Banki, Ngala and Monguno — have been targeted in attacks by insurgents.
President Muhammadu Buhari reshuffled the military command this year, raising hopes of a shift in strategy to end a 12-year-old conflict that has killed 36,000 people and forced around two million to flee their homes.
Due to worsening security, humanitarian workers in Nigeria are struggling to provide aid, with the number of people requiring urgent assistance forecast to rise to 8.7 million this year.