MAIDUGURI - Boko Haram gunmen killed 68 people, including many children, in a massacre in the northeast Nigeria village of Njaba, two witnesses and two vigilantes told AFP Thursday.

Heavily armed militants stormed the village in Borno state on Tuesday ‘from all directions’, said Falmata Bisika, 62, who escaped to the state capital Maiduguri where she spoke to reporters.

‘The terrorists were armed to the teeth,’ she said, recounting the insurgents’ rampage through Njaba, which saw them fire on fleeing residents, including ‘teenagers and the elderly’. ‘It is very unlikely (that) I will ever go back,’ she said. ‘Four of my grandchildren have been killed.’ Mimuni Haruna, 42, said he hid in a silo at the back of his house during the prolonged attack before running to Maiduguri, roughly 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Njaba. ‘I participated in the counting of dead bodies. Sixty-eight people were killed,’ Haruna said. ‘Most of the houses in our village have been destroyed.’ Vigilante leader Ali Mulai said the attack began at about 5:00am. ‘The victims included boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 19 and other older residents who were either shot dead or slaughtered,’ he said.

Another vigilante whose is from Njaba confirmed the attack and said his father was among those killed. Requesting anonymity, he said he believed the assault was launched from Gwoza, where Boko Haram is believed to be amassing fighters. Gwoza is also the Borno town where Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau first proclaimed the existence of a caliphate inside Nigeria. Moreover, Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency to carve out an Islamic state in the northeast of Nigeria has killed thousands and displaced over 1.5 million people.

The group gained worldwide notoriety in April 2014 after its members kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state, the heartland of Boko Haram. The slow government response sparked the movement Bring Back Our Girls that has been seeking international support and lobbying the government to keep up the search. On Thursday, a representative for President Goodluck met the girls’ families in Maiduguri.

‘As you are all aware, our military is having the upper hand in this sacred war. We believe by the grace of God that your children will return safely,’ the minister of state for power Mohammed Wakil told them. Boko Haram seized territory the size of Belgium last year, which Nigeria’s ill-equipped army has struggled to take back. Jonathan, who is seeking re-election on March 28, has been heavily criticised for the failure to crush the insurgents.

Elections were postponed for six weeks from Feb. 14 for security reasons. Since the delay, Chadian troops cooperating with the Nigerians have reclaimed some important towns in Borno. The army has also been able to push the militants out of some territories in neighbouring Adamawa and Yobe states.

A senior local government official in Damboa about 20 km from Njaba, who declined to be named, said that most of the victims were teenagers. Ibrahim Wagu, who lives in Maiduguri but who was from Njaba, told Reuters that two of his relatives were killed. ‘My older brother and my sister’s first son were killed. I can’t even go to there now,’ he said. Kawu Tijjani, a member of the joint taskforce in the town of Biu, said some women who fled there from Njaba on Wednesday asked them to help evacuate the bodies of their relatives.