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Uncertainty Surrounds Massacre In Northeastern Nigerian Town

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's turn to Nigeria now, where the Islamist group Boko Haram continues its campaign of terror. Boko Haram is perhaps best known for kidnapping hundreds of girls from villages in the northeast of the country. Since early this month, the militants have also been attacking settlements in the area and have overrun a military base set up to fight terrorism. Will Ross is the BBC bureau chief in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city. Good morning.

WILL ROSS: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, we've been hearing reports of a really terrible massacre in the northeast, in the city of Baga. What is known about what's happening there?

ROSS: Well, basically, on the third of this month, a large group of Boko Haram fighters attacked a military base, then went for the town and the surrounding villages, shooting people on sight. People were fleeing for their lives. Some of them were pursued into the bush, still being shot at. Now, the big question is how many people have been killed? It's far from clear. We think that several hundred have been killed. That's certainly the kind of information we're getting from the fleeing residents. But it is too dangerous for anybody to go there and count the dead, let alone bury them. So it, for now, is still an area under the control of Boko Haram.

MONTAGNE: And the government of Nigeria - whenever there's a story about Boko Haram, it comes up how Nigeria's government seems not to be in control at all.

ROSS: It's a huge challenge that the military is facing at the moment. Not only are you having these attacks like the one on Baga and those surrounding villages; you've also had suicide bombings, several of those in recent days. And in fact, just in the last few hours, another battle we understand is going on in the south of Borno State. At times, we hear success. For example, over the weekend the Nigerian military fought off the jihadist fighters from the town of Damaturu. That's in you Yobe State, also in the northeast. The extraordinary thing is after these huge attacks, there's often silence from the government, and people are just baffled at how the government can seemingly ignore what are, you know, appalling levels of violence and massacres.

MONTAGNE: Well, seemingly then, the thing to say at this moment in time is more to come.

ROSS: It looks that way. We're exactly a month away from elections. And that seems to be where the politicians are focused. The president, Goodluck Jonathan, is keen to get another term. So we're expecting Boko Haram to increase their violence - but yes, very worrying times in Nigeria. And there are people here, of course, who look at all the focus on Paris and the killings there and say, but this is on a different scale in Nigeria. And yet, you know, there isn't that same kind of focus of world attention.

MONTAGNE: Will Ross is BBC bureau chief in Lagos, Nigeria. Thanks very much.

ROSS: You're very welcome.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.