Nigerian soldiers angry about the killing of an officer razed buildings and shot dead more than 30 civilians Monday in a northeastern city long under siege by a radical Islamist sect.
An Associated Press reporter in Maiduguri, the spiritual home of the sect known as Boko Haram, counted the dead while on a tour of the still-smoldering neighbourhood. The journalist saw no weapons or evidence that the dead belonged to the sect. A soldier nearby, who did not identify himself, claimed the attack was a response to a bombing nearby earlier Monday that he said killed a lieutenant.
"They killed our officer!" the soldier shouted. "We had no options!"
The AP reporter also saw that soldiers had set fire to about 50 homes and businesses around the area, which sits near the Nigerian Union of Journalists state office and other buildings in Maiduguri. The journalist accompanied Zanna Umar Mustapha, the deputy governor of Borno state, on the tour.
State officials declined to comment about the killings and urged those traveling with the convoy not to take photographs of the destruction out of fear of further alienating those living in the region.
Nigeria's military has been accused of committing so-called "extrajudicial killings" while in pursuit of the Boko Haram sect. The military now routinely claims massive operations with dozens of people killed, always referred to as Boko Haram members or sympathizers, announcements that cannot be independently verified. The military also downplays its own casualties suffered during the operations.
Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the military force in the city, declined to immediately comment about the retaliatory attack. Earlier in the day, he had said that two soldiers were wounded in the bombing. Col. Mohammed Yerima, a military spokesman in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The killing of civilians comes as Boko Haram continues its bloody guerrilla campaign against Nigeria's weak central government. The sect, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, is blamed for killing more than 690 people in drive-by killings and bombings this year alone, according to an AP count.
The sect has demanded the release of all its captive members and has called for strict Shariah law to be implemented across the entire country.