Kano - Hundreds of Boko Haram militants stormed the town of Askira Uba in northeast Nigeria, burning homes and public buildings, as attacks continued despite a regional campaign against the Islamist rebels, witnesses said Tuesday.
Residents able to flee the town in Borno state left in droves, with only the sick and elderly remaining behind through the insurgents' rampage.
"We don't know their fate in the hands of Boko Haram," said a guard at the palace of the local chief, requesting anonymity.
The attack began at about 7:30 pm (1830 GMT) Monday and the extremists "burnt most of the homes in town", he added.
Another resident who fled, Aliyu Abdullahi, gave similar details but said Monday's attack was preceded by a similar raid on Sunday, when the insurgents torched the local emir's palace.
"When they burnt the palace of the emir on Sunday we thought they were done only for them to come back last night and set the town on fire," said Abdullahi who fled to the nearby town of Mubi, which was recently liberated from rebel control.
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Abdullahi said residents in Askira Uba tried to call for help from troops based in the town of Chibok 25 kilometres (16 miles) away but that soldiers "refused to deploy".
More than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Chibok in April, prompting global outrage and drawing unprecedented attention to the Boko Haram conflict.
The Islamists took over Chibok in September but troops backed by vigilantes reclaimed it days later.
Since then, a large contingent of soldiers have been based in the now infamous town and it was not immediately clear why they did not deploy to Askira Uba to repel the latest attack.
Defence officials were not available to comment.
Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger have launched an unprecedented joint offensive against the Islamists this month and have claimed a series of major gains.
But violence has persisted, with critics saying Nigerian soldiers are still not doing enough to protect civilians against near daily assaults by the militants.