MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AFP) - An attack by Boko Haram Islamist militants in a north-eastern Nigerian town on the Cameroon border has killed hundreds of people, a local senator and witnesses said on Wednesday.
Senator Ahmed Zanna said the town of Gamboru Ngala had been left unguarded because the soldiers based there to protect the population had been redeployed north towards Lake Chad in an effort to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14.
Gunmen riding in armoured vehicles and on motorcycles stormed the town on Monday and razed much of the area.
Residents said survivors fled when the attack began, with the insurgents firing on civilians as they tried to run to safety into Cameroon.
Casualty figures had remained unclear in the hours after the attack because the town had been overrun by extremist fighters and it was not possible to return to assess the loss of life, witnesses had previously told AFP.
"From information reaching me from the town, the death toll from the attack is around 300," said Mr Ahmed. "All economic and business centres have been burnt. The market in the town which attracts traders from all over the area...has been completely burnt," he added.
The senator's claim that the military had been redeployed from the town in search of the missing girls could not be immediately confirmed by the military, which has not responded to repeated calls and text messages seeking comment on the attack.
The mass abduction has shocked Nigerians and sparked global outrage.
The United States has sent military experts to Nigeria to help rescue the hostages.
Speaking by phone from Gamboru Ngala, resident Musa Abba told AFP that the town was "littered with more than 100 dead bodies," adding that the search was continuing and the toll may rise.
Another resident, Ibrahim Bukar put the death toll closer to 300.
Gamboru Ngala falls in Borno state, Boko Haram's home base and where the insurgents have killed thousands in a five-year uprising aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.