Maiduguri, Nigeria, AP—Islamic extremists in Nigeria have seized Chibok, forcing thousands of residents to flee the northeastern town from which the insurgents kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in April, a local official said on Friday.
The insurgents rode into town shooting from pickup trucks and motorcycles and quickly took control at around 4 pm on Thursday afternoon, Bana Lawan, chairman of the Chibok local government, told The Associated Press.
“Nobody can tell you what is happening there today because everybody is just trying to escape with their lives,” he said.
Attempts to call the cellular telephones of parents of some of the kidnapped girls did not succeed.
The Boko Haram extremists often destroy cell phone towers and the military often cuts communications to areas under attack.
Dozens of the kidnapped girls escaped in the first couple of days after their capture from a boarding school just outside the town, but 219 remain missing.
Community leader Hussain Monguno said none of the escapees were in Chibok at the time of the attack as they all have been given scholarships to other schools in northern Nigeria.
Nigeria’s military chief announced on October 17 that the country’s homegrown Boko Haram extremist group had agreed to an immediate ceasefire.
Government officials said the truce would lead to a speedy release of the kidnapped girls. But Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video published last month said the girls were “an old story,” that they all had converted to Islam and been married off to his fighters.
Chibok is an enclave of mainly Christian families, some involved in translating the Bible into local languages, in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria.
At least seven of the girls’ parents have died since their abductions, from causes like heart attacks that residents blame on the trauma, according to Monguno, head of the Borno-Yobe People’s Forum.
Since the apparent ceasefire announcement, the insurgents have taken control of several more towns and villages where they have declared an Islamic caliphate along the lines of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group.
In an area covering about 7,700 square miles (20,000 square kilometers), residents caught behind the militants’ lines say they have set up courts upholding a strict version of Shari’a law, publicly amputating the hands of alleged looters and whipping people for infractions such as smoking cigarettes.