LONDON — Authorities in northeastern Nigeria imposed a 24-hour curfew around the region’s main city on Monday after Islamic militants staged an audacious attack apparently aimed at a government air base, news reports said, describing the assault as among the most dramatic in the insurgents’ campaign to create an Islamic state.
The attack countered reports in recent months that the group had been defeated in the city, Maiduguri, even though it remained a deadly threat elsewhere. Some analysts, moreover, said the assault could raise questions about the authorities’ claims to have pushed the insurgents into remote areas.
Baba Ahmed Jidda, a spokesman for Borno State, where the assault occurred, said in a statement that “the imposition of the curfew is necessitated by an attack in Maiduguri by people suspected to be Boko Haram members in the early hours” of Monday. While the precise target was not made clear in the announcement, news reports said hundreds of militants attacked an air force base on the outskirts of the city, where the militant Boko Haram movement was founded a decade ago.
The attack was said to have started around 3 a.m. Jidda urged citizens to be “calm and law-abiding until the situation is put under control, as the security agencies will do everything possible to maintain lives and property of the citizenry.”
“Only vehicles on emergency calls and essential services are allowed to move during the period,” the statement said.
The Boko Haram movement is said to have ties to al-Qaida’s regional affiliate in North and West Africa. Last month, the State Department labeled the movement and an affiliate, Ansaru, as foreign terrorist organizations, saying they were responsible for thousands of killings in northern and central Nigeria.
In October, officials, activists and residents of Maiduguri said a network of youthful, informer-led vigilantes had pushed Boko Haram militants out of the city, permitting it to regenerate after years of strife.
The militants want to impose a strict form of Islamic Shariah law in the region. On Monday, the militants were said in news reports to have launched their attack with cries in Arabic of “God is great.” The number of casualties was unclear, but The Associated Press said scores of people may be dead.
In May, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Borno and two other states as the military launched a major offensive against the group, forcing the insurgents to retreat to more remote areas.
In its war against the Nigerian state, Boko Haram has singled out government institutions, especially schools, for attack. One of its tenets is that Western-style education, not based on the Quran, in conventional schools is sinful and un-Islamic.