MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Islamic militants struck the northern city of Maiduguri Friday morning, attacking the main military barracks with gunfire and explosions but the Ministry of Defense said it repelled the insurgents and inflicted "heavy casualties."
Children walking to school when the shooting erupted cried in fear and confusion. Panicked residents fled from their homes.
Soldiers had a shootout with the insurgents at the main Giwa Military Barracks, the headquarters of a 10-month-old security forces' offensive to halt the Islamic uprising in northeast Nigeria using draconian state of emergency powers.
Fighter jets bombed targets in the city, according to several local news reports, but Nigeria's Ministry of Defense refused to confirm that.
Spokesman Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade said the military repelled an attack aimed at freeing extremists detained at the barracks.
It appeared the insurgents broke into the military installation because Olukolade said the attackers suffered "heavy casualties" including some detainees killed by friendly fire as they were released.
He said four soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
"Hot pursuit" operations by land and air are in progress, he said.
Olukolade said they believed the insurgents were trying "to boost their depleted stock of fighters" following two weeks of aerial bombardments and ground assaults on forest hideouts and mountain caves along the borders with Cameroon and Chad.
The insurgents infiltrated from the Ngadda River running behind the University of Maiduguri and dividing the campus from the barracks, said police chief Lawal Tanko, according to the state News Agency of Nigeria.
The university was not attacked and the fighting was concentrated around the barracks, said Tanko.
Maiduguri is the birthplace of the Boko Haram terrorist network that is blamed for the deaths of thousands of Muslims and Christians in a 4-year-old uprising aimed at transforming Nigeria into an Islamic state under strict Shariah law. Nigeria's population of 170 million, the biggest in Africa, is comprised of almost equal numbers of Christians living mainly in the south and Muslims in the north.