Kano: Boko Haram fighters have surrounded the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri and are preparing an imminent takeover, an influential regional group claimed on Thursday, calling for military reinforcements.
"They have completely surrounded the city of Maiduguri," said the Borno Elders Forum, which is made up of retired senior civilian and military officials as well as community leaders.
"It is apparent that their imminent target is to take the city of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital," they said in a statement.
Borno, Yobe and Adamawa regions have been under a state of emergency since May last year but despite the Nigerian army driving Boko Haram out of Maiduguri, thousands of people have died in the countryside and many more have been forced to flee.
"We wish to call on the federal government to urgently fortify in and around the city of Maiduguri," the elders added.
"The insurgents... Are nursing the ambition of attacking the city in all directions. There is credible local intelligence information to that effect."
The elders said that half of Borno state's 4.1 million population was now living in temporary accommodation in Maiduguri, where Boko Haram began as an anti-corruption movement in 2002.
The United Nations says that more than 650,000 people across the northeast have fled their homes, while the United States has warned that any attack on Maiduguri could hit civilians further.
Roads and bridges have been destroyed, schools shut and the economy blighted, with Maiduguri without mains electricity for the last three months.
The elders warned of "starvation" given that subsistence farmers in the state had not been able to plant crops this year because of the chaos.
Security analysts have warned that Nigeria's government was on the brink of losing control of the northeast and Maiduguri would be a major gain in its aim at creating a hardline Islamic state.
The elders said the government needed to act, claiming the militants were in control within reach of the city from the south and east after taking over swathes of territory elsewhere in the state.
Boko Haram recently claimed to have taken over Bama, 70 kilometres (45 miles) from Maiduguri but the military has since said it has retaken the town.
That followed a declaration by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video released on August 24 that another captured Borno town, Gwoza, was now part of an Islamic caliphate.