Boko Haram kills seven, kidnaps priest in Christmas Eve attack

Fighters on motorbikes and in trucks stormed the village of Pemi, burning buildings and kidnapping a priest

Nigerien soldiers stand guard outside the Diffa airport in South-East Niger, near the Nigerian border, on December 23, 2020. Under the constant threat of the Islamists of Boko Haram and its dissidents, Diffa, the large city in southeastern Niger on the border with Nigeria, lives under siege with frightened and economically strapped inhabitants. / AFP / Issouf SANOGO

Boko Haram militants have stormed a Christian majority town on Christmas Eve killing seven, abducting a priest and looting supplies before disappearing back into the countryside.

Fighters in trucks and motorcycles stormed Pemi, a predominantly Christian village in Borno state on Thursday, shooting "indiscriminately" and setting buildings on fire, said Abwaku Kabu, a militia leader.

"The terrorists killed seven people, burnt 10 homes and looted food supplies that were meant to be distributed to residents to celebrate Christmas," Mr Kabu said.

In many parts of Nigeria, communities have resorted for self-defence to armed vigilantes or militias, who work alongside the army.

The assailants, who drove from the group's nearby Sambisa forest enclave, looted medical supplies from a hospital before setting it ablaze, the militia leader said, adding they also burnt a church and abducted a priest.

A body was found Friday morning, local community leader Ayuba Alamson said, raising the number of dead to seven.

The toll could rise as villagers fled into the bush during the attack and some people are still unaccounted for.

The village is located only 20 kilometres from Chibok, where Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls six years ago.

Separately on Thursday, gunmen attacked another Christian community in Garkida, in neighbouring Adamawa state, looting drug stores and food supplies before torching homes, residents told AFP.

There were no reports of casualties from that attack.

Nigeria's security agency, the Department of State Services, issued a warning on Tuesday about planned attacks.

The DSS asked Nigerians "to be extra vigilant and report strange movements," while assuring that it was "collaborating with other sister agencies to ensure that adequate measures are put in place for protection of lives and property."

President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement on Thursday "reiterated the promise of his administration to remain unyielding in confronting the Boko Haram insurgency as well as other forms of criminality."

"For me, providing security for all residents in the country remains an article of faith," Mr Buhari said in a written Christmas message.

The 78-year-old urged citizens to volunteer "intelligence/information on activities of armed bandits, insurgents and other criminal elements within their communities in order to put an end to this blight."

The decade-long conflict in Nigeria's northeast has killed 36,000 people and displaced around two million from their homes, according to the United Nations.

Violence has spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting regional countries to form a military coalition to fight the extremist groups.

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