Boko Haram gunmen killed many villagers and set homes ablaze in a northeastern Nigerian town just 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the strategic center of Maiduguri before dawn Friday, according to survivors.

Residents of Damboa town called The Associated Press to say they were “piling up corpses.”

Half the town is up in flames, say civilian defense fighters there according to Nigerian Vigilante Group spokesman Abbas Gava.

Well-armed Islamic extremists attacked as residents were preparing for the 5 a.m. dawn prayers and the civilian defense fighters could only resist with clubs and homemade shotguns, he said.

Damboa has been besieged for two weeks, since Islamic extremists on July 4 attacked a new tank battalion base set up on its outskirts. The Defense Ministry reported it repelled the attack and killed at least 50 insurgents, with the deaths of six soldiers including the commanding officer. But locals said the soldiers were driven from the base and that extremists twice have ambushed military convoys trying to reach it in the past week.

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