MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Suspected Islamic extremists who hid their assault rifles inside a coffin launched an attack against vigilantes in a northeast Nigeria city at the heart of the country's bloody insurgency, killing 13 people before being shot by security forces, witnesses said Saturday.
The attack happened Friday in Maiduguri, the spiritual home of the extremist network Boko Haram that's now targeted as part of a regional military offensive against extremists in the West African nation. Meanwhile, soldiers shot dead another eight suspected Boko Haram fighters in the city Thursday, leaving their bodies in a ditch in the restive city.
Friday's attack targeted members of a new youth vigilante group that's sprung up in Maiduguri comprised of men who point out suspected Boko Haram members to the military. The gunmen hid their Kalashnikov assault rifles inside a coffin draped in white cloth as if being prepared for a burial, allowing them to drive through the city's numerous military checkpoints without being searched, witness Sheriff Aji said. When they approached the vigilantes in a van, they pulled the rifles out from the coffin and opened fire, killing the civilians, Aji said.
"They continued shooting until they ran out of ammunition, then some courageous youth rounded them up and handed them over to the soldiers, who shot them dead as they attempted to escape," Aji told the Associated Press. Aji said he counted eight dead suspected Boko Haram gunmen after the shooting.
Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, a military spokesman in the city, could not be reached for comment Saturday as security forces have shut down mobile phone networks throughout the northeast as part of the offensive.