Militants killed around 300 people on a busy market day in a border town in northeast Nigeria, a local senator told NBC News on Wednesday.
News of the attack on Gamburu comes amid an escalating crisis over the Islamic extremist organization Boko Haram, which has been terrorizing Nigeria's northeast and whose recent abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls has drawn international attention to the group's brazen and brutal tactics.
Ahmed Zanna, a federal senator for Borno state, told NBC News that around 300 people died in the most recent attack. The assault began with insurgents opening fire on the market in Gamburu on Monday afternoon, when the bazaar was filled with villagers from the town and neighboring area, he said.
"Those who were able to run…ran.”
“They went into the market area and started shooting,” he told NBC news. “They killed anybody on sight.”
The militants then moved on to the rest of the city, according to Zanna, burning down houses and shops and destroying buildings with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Most of the city - including the police station - is destroyed, Zanna added.
"Those who were able to run…ran,” Zanna told NBC News, saying many people had fled across the border to Cameroon once the attack got underway and are only starting to return two days later.
“They came back and they started taking the dead bodies one by one,” he said.
Zanna said while the death toll is "at or above" 300 people, the number could climb as the rubble of buildings destroyed in the attack is cleared and as villagers return home.
While it was unclear how many militants were involved in the attack, Zanna said he believes Islamic terror organization Boko Haram - which has been operating in the area for the past three years and claimed responsibility for kidnapping the schoolgirls - is to blame.
Zanna noted that "this type of killing" experienced in Gamburu has been going on "for at least three years, but only now has come to the attention of the international community.
“I am now happy that at least the international community knows what is going on,” Zanna said. “I don’t know why the insurgency was allowed to grow like this, to grow up to this moment.”
Boko Haram's five-year-old Islamic uprising has claimed the lives of thousands of Muslims and Christians. More than 1,500 people have died in their attacks so far this year. The insurgents say Western influences are corrupting and they want to impose an Islamic state in Nigeria, a country of 170 million of whom half are Christian.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report.