MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Young men armed with machetes and sticks have entered the streets of Nigeria’s biggest city in the northeast to target suspected Islamist extremists, even as soldiers continued an offensive against the radical fighters.
The vigilante group, known as ‘‘Civilian JTF,’’ a play off the acronym used to describe the joint military and police taskforce in the region, started taking up arms after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency May 14 in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states — a territory of around 60,000 square miles of the Sahel bordering Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
In a nationally televised speech, Jonathan admitted the nation had lost control of some villages and towns to extremist fighters already responsible for more than 1,600 killings since 2010, according to an Associated Press count.
In the time since, the military claims it has killed and arrested suspected extremists as it now controls security for the region with expanded powers to arrest anyone and occupy any building. However, military officials who recently spoke to journalists acknowledged many fighters probably fled with heavy weaponry including antiaircraft guns and remain a major threat to Africa’s most populous nation.
The members of Civilian JTF have now come under attack from extremists for pointing out suspects to soldiers.
Suspects recently pointed out by the vigilantes in three cases ended up dead.