Nigeria troops, militants clash

Ambush occurs near girls' abduction site

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BAUCHI, Nigeria -- Islamic militants again attacked the remote Nigerian town from which nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped, Nigeria's military said Wednesday, resulting in a firefight that killed 12 soldiers and led angry troops to fire on a commanding officer.

Soldiers said the troops fired at a senior officer who came to pay respects to the killed soldiers, whose bodies were brought to a barracks in Maiduguri, the capital of northeastern Borno state. It was another sign of demoralization in the military that is in charge of the search for the abducted schoolgirls. The failure of Nigeria's government and military to find them after the April 15 mass abduction has triggered national and international outrage and forced Nigeria's government to accept international help last week.

Nigeria's Ministry of Defense played down Wednesday's shooting incident, saying soldiers "registered their anger about the incident by firing into the air. The situation has since been brought under control, as there is calm in the cantonment" in Maiduguri, about 80 miles north of Chibok, where the girls were abducted. But soldiers at the scene at Mailamari Barracks said infuriated troopers fired directly at the vehicle carrying Maj. Gen. Ahmadu Mohammed, the general officer commanding the army's 7 Division. He was not hit.

The witnesses said the soldiers were angry because they wanted to spend the night in a village and told their command that the road was dangerous after the attack around Chibok. They instead were ordered to travel and were ambushed, with at least 12 killed. The soldiers spoke on condition of anonymity because they want to keep their jobs.

The Ministry of Defense, which often exaggerates the number of enemy killed and played down its own losses, said four soldiers were killed along with several insurgents.

There is growing anger at the military's failures, though soldiers have said in interviews that they are outgunned and outnumbered by the insurgents, don't have bulletproof vests, are not properly paid and have to forage for food.

A sign of their failure is the vigilante groups that have been springing up in northeast Nigeria to fight the extremists over the past year. In Kalabalge, a village about 155 miles from Maiduguri, residents took matters into their own hands.

On Tuesday morning, after learning about an impending attack, villagers ambushed two trucks with gunmen, residents and a security official said in interviews. At least 10 suspected militants were detained, and scores were killed, the official said. It was not immediately clear where the detainees were being held.

Kalabalge trader Ajid Musa said that after residents organized the vigilante group, "it is impossible" for militants to successfully stage attacks there.

Earlier this year in other parts of Borno, extremists launched more attacks in retaliation over the vigilante groups. Borno is one of three Nigerian states where President Goodluck Jonathan has imposed a state of emergency, giving the military special powers to fight the Islamic extremist group, whose stronghold is in Maiduguri.

Britain and the United States are now actively involved in the effort to rescue the missing schoolgirls. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said FBI agents and a hostage negotiating team are in Nigeria now, providing technology and other materials and working with "our Nigerian counterparts to be as helpful as we possibly can."

U.S. reconnaissance aircraft are flying over Nigeria in search of the missing girls. In addition, a Northrop Grumman Corp. Global Hawk drone is assisting in the search, said U.S. officials who asked not to be identified.

At least 276 of the schoolgirls are still held captive, with the group's leader threatening to sell them into slavery. In a video released Monday, he offered to release the girls in exchange for the freedom of jailed Boko Haram members.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government on Wednesday said a key suspect in a bombing that killed 75 people in Abuja, the capital, had been arrested in Sudan.

Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, a British-born, former Nigerian military intelligence officer and army deserter, was arrested by Interpol, government spokesman Mike Omeri said, adding, "Arrangements are being made to extradite him to Nigeria."

The capital's worst attack, on April 14 in the Nyanya district, occurred the same day that insurgents attacked the Chibok school in Borno state and abducted the schoolgirls.

Bloomberg News contributed.


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