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Boko Haram attacks military, frees 'dozens' of rebel prisoners

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria--Boko Haram Islamists attacked a military base in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Friday and freed dozens of insurgents from custody, the military said of the latest raid in the embattled city.

Before storming the Giwa barracks, a notorious prison for Islamist fighters, the gunmen opened fire in a residential neighborhood and razed many homes, witnesses said.

The attack is another blow to the military's campaign against the extremist group, which has been blamed for thousands of killings since 2009 in Africa's most populous country and top oil producer.

An AFP reporter near the Giwa barracks said the shooting there started shortly after 7 a.m. (0600 GMT).

Gunmen hurled explosives into the compound, causing several buildings to catch fire, witnesses said.

A military source who requested anonymity told AFP that the insurgents forced their way inside the barracks prison and “freed dozens of their members”.

Asked about the report, defense spokesman Chris Olukolade told AFP that “many insurgents are in flight. Whether they were those who staged the attack or those who were held prisoner is not yet known.”

In a separate statement, Olukolade said the insurgents have been hit hard by military bombardments in recent weeks and Boko Haram attacked the barracks “to boost their depleted stock of fighters.”

The insurgents have previously carried out a number of prison breaks, but this appeared to be the most dramatic in many months.

The northeast has been under a state of emergency since May when the military launched a major offensive aimed at crushing the Islamist uprising.

Defense officials have sought to portray the operation as a success but the violence has continued unchecked.

Human Rights Watch on Friday said Boko Haram had carried out more than 40 attacks already in 2014, with more than 700 people killed, one of the highest rates of killing since the uprising began.

Many of those attacks have targeted defenseless civilians in remote villages, leading to claims from the military that the insurgents were no longer capable of striking anything but soft targets.

But the latest daring raid in Maiduguri, which followed a similar attack in the city in December on the military and the airport, has re-enforced the notion that Boko Haram is still able to hit heavily fortified targets.

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