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Nigerien soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria.

Nigerien soldiers hold up a Boko Haram flag that they had seized in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria. Photo: Reuters

Damasak, Nigeria: Soldiers from Niger and Chad who liberated the Nigerian town of Damasak from Boko Haram militants have discovered the bodies of at least 70 peopleĀ scattered under a bridge, a witness said.

In what appeared to be an execution site for the Islamist group, the bodies were strewn beneath the concrete bridge on one of the main roads leading out of the town.

The bodies were partially mummified by the dry desert air, suggesting that the killings had taken place some time ago.

Weapons captured from Boko Haram by Chadian and Nigerien soldiers are seen in the recently retaken town of Damasak.

Weapons captured from Boko Haram by Chadian and Nigerien soldiers are seen in the recently retaken town of Damasak. Photo: Reuters

Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in a six-year insurgency aimed at establishing an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria. Damasak was seized by the Islamist group in November but recaptured by troops from Niger and Chad on Saturday as part of a multinational effort to wipe out the militants.
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Chadian soldiers, who said the bodies were discovered on Thursday, spoke of at least 100 corpses in the area around the dry river bed. A witness was able to count at least 70.

A trail of blackened blood was visible along the side of the bridge facing the bodies, suggesting they had been thrown off the side after being killed. Among the dead was the imam of the town.

A signpost painted by Boko Haram is seen in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, near where the massacre of its residents occurred.

A signpost painted by Boko Haram is seen in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, near where the massacre of its residents occurred. Photo: Reuters

All but around 50 of the town’s residents had fled by the time Damasak was recaptured. Those who remained were mostly too old or too sick to leave. The witness said a strong smell of decomposition in many parts of town suggested there could be more bodies concealed there.

Chad’s military spokesman Colonel Azem Bermandoa said the Chadians had asked Nigeria’s military to occupy the town, which lies close to the border with Niger, and would remain there until Nigerian troops arrived.

The regional offensive launched this year with Chad, Niger and Cameroon comes as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy, prepares to hold presidential elections on March 28.

Nigerian troops cross the Kaffin-Hausa bridge, which earlier had been destroyed by terrorists and reconstructed by military engineers at Damasak in north-eastern Nigeria Borno State.

Nigerian troops cross the Kaffin-Hausa bridge, which earlier had been destroyed by terrorists and reconstructed by military engineers at Damasak in north-eastern Nigeria Borno State. Photo: AFP

At the start of this year, Boko Haram controlled around 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium. With the help of its foreign allies, Nigeria’s army said on Tuesday it had pushed the rebels out of all but three districts.

On Thursday, however, two security sources said that Boko Haram had killed at least 10 people in the town of Gamburu, on the border with Cameroon, demonstrating it can still attack civilians despite being forced into retreat.

President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the insurgency. His challenger Muhammadu Buhari has campaigned on a reputation for toughness gained when he was military ruler of Nigeria in the 1980s.

A Chadian soldier raises his automatic weapon to have his picture taken by another soldier  in the Nigerian city of Damasak.

A Chadian soldier raises his automatic weapon to have his picture taken by another soldier in the Nigerian city of Damasak. Photo: AP

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