A security team led by police officers engaged Boko Haram gunmen in a shootout and rescued many people earlier kidnapped by the terrorists.
The incident happened on Friday and involved the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) of the Borno State Government.
The operation was confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES by some of the victims and an official of the RRS.
The incident occurred at about 4.30 p.m. along the Maiduguri-Kano highway.
The attack on travellers on the route was the first since February when gunmen attacked a bridal train and abducted many of them.
It is also believed to be the first by Boko Haram since the death of the leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, who reportedly committed suicide during a fight with a splinter group, ISWAP.
The RRS, led by their commander, Abioye Babalola, responded to a distress call by some of the travellers who had managed to escape.
Sources familiar with the incident said the gunmen who rode in five gun trucks stormed the highway after engaging some personnel of the counterterrorism unit of the police.
Many vehicles stopped while travellers jumped out of and fled into the bush.
“While they were rounding up some of us, the travellers who could not escape, the RRS squad suddenly arrived and engaged them in fierce shooting, which forced them to abandon the passengers,” said Bashir Musa, a traveller who survived the attack.
“It was a fierce fight and the RRS policemen did well because they arrived on time and kept on fighting and advancing while shooting teargas that forced the gunmen to flee and left us lying face down.”
Ismaila Jajere, a driver, also confirmed the incident.
“I was coming in from Damaturu with my Maiduguri-bound passengers when suddenly I saw a military vehicle trailing. I tried to give them a way to pass but when they were overtaking me, I noticed that it was not a military truck but Boko Haram.
“I was scared, so I decided to make a u-turn. When they moved ahead and then suddenly turned and started following us, so I had to stop the vehicle and told my passengers that we were under attack by Boko Haram.
“We ran into the bush, as we noticed three more trucks of Boko Haram coming. It was scary. They did not fire at us, but we had to keep running. We later returned to the highway and a payloader gave us a lift to Auno where we informed the police RRS who moved in toward their direction.”
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on phone, the RRS Commander, Mr Babalola, said, “we only did what we are mandated to do which is protecting commuters along the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway.
“It happened at Garin Kuturu, some few kilometres before Auno, and when we responded to the quick intel shared with us by the locals. But before we reached the spot we noticed that they had fired … and they hit a patrol vehicle of the counter-terrorist squad. So we moved in and we saw that they were rounding up passengers.
“We engaged them while releasing tear-gas that blinded them. They eventually fled and abandoned the passengers who we assisted to safety. We have also helped a driver rescue his abandoned vehicle, a Sharon minibus,” Mr Babalola said.
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