Suspected Boko Haram militants attacked the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Sunday, hours before Secretary of State John Kerry was due to arrive in the country on a visit, officials told NBC News.
The fighters began attacking the outskirts of the city at around 1 a.m. local time (7 p.m. ET Saturday), according to Bulama Mali Gubio, spokesperson for the Borno Elders’ Forum.
It came hours after the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, made an election campaign visit to the city.
Kerry, the first U.S. diplomat to travel to Nigeria since 2012, was heading to Lagos, more than 1,000 miles to the south.
Maiduguri is the capital of Borno state, and would be a major prize for Boko Haram insurgents, who are trying to carve out an Islamic state within Nigeria. Boko Haram has waged a five-year insurgency to carve out an Islamic state in the northeast of Africa’s biggest economy.
Bulama, who spoke to NBC News via telephone from inside the city, said that he could hear explosions from the area where the military was engaging the insurgents
Nigeria’s military claimed on Twitter that its troops were repelling simultaneous attacks on Maiduguri and the town of Monguno some 60 miles north.
It said a temporary curfew had been imposed on Maiduguri. The attack was also confirmed by Borno state Senator Ahmed Zanna.
Thousands of residents fled to Maiduguri after an attack on the fishing town of Baga at the start of January that was believed to be the deadliest ever by Boko Haram.
Read more at NBC News