For Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram, A Desperate Life On The Run : Parallels The Islamist extremists have seized a string of towns in the northeast, displacing hundreds of thousands and creating a humanitarian crisis. Monday's attack on a boys school killed up to 50 students.

For Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram, A Desperate Life On The Run

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A suicide bomber dressed as a student struck a boys' school in northeastern Nigeria today. He killed nearly 50 students, some as young as 11. No one has yet claimed responsibility, but Nigerians are blaming insurgents from Boko Haram. The Islamist extremists have intensified deadly attacks in kidnappings in recent weeks. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports on how the insurgency is upending life in the region.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Hundreds of students were preparing for Monday assembly when the blast went off. Body parts were strewn all over, as dozens of dead bodies and wounded survivors were transported to a nearby hospital close to the boys' high school in the northeastern town of Potiskum. Such attacks have continued despite the Nigerian military's surprise announcement last month of a cease-fire with Boko Haram, which the group denies. The government seems powerless to stop the militants. Witnesses say as soldiers rushed to the site of the school explosion, angry residents hurled stones at them, accusing the military of failing to protect them. Boko Haram has been fighting for the past five years to impose strict Islamic law on Nigeria. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more driven from their homes by the fighting.

Here, in neighboring Adamawa state, almost nine and a half thousand displaced people now live in what was a youth service camp outside Yola, the state capital. Boko Haram has seized a string of towns in recent weeks in this arid and impoverished agricultural region of Nigeria, most recently Mubi, on the border with Cameroon. Sylvanus Papka from Adamawa's emergency management agency describes how people scatter under fire.

SYLVANUS PAPKA: When they were attacked, you know, everybody was running away. People started running helter-skelter and in fact, that's actually made them separate with their families and that is why here people are coming in to check for their loved ones. I know most of them. They have lost everything so they have been sleeping in the bush for the past five days. The parents are looking for their children and also, children are also looking for their parents.

QUIST-ARCTON: Like Ramatu Usman, a 37-year-old mother of eight children.

RAMATU USMAN: (Speaking foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: Usman says her son Yahaya Buba was lost in the panic following last week's attack on Mubi. The 6-year-old boy is still missing. Some new residents of the camp have twice been displaced, like Halima Hasan.

HALIMA HASAN: (Speaking foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: In August her son fled a Boko Haram attack on her hometown in neighboring Borno state and escaped to Mubi, but the attack on Mubi forced them to find yet another refuge, again trekking many miles to this camp in Yola. Hasan, like thousands of others, is appealing to the Nigerian government and military to put an end to the fighting and restore peace. Boko Haram's most notorious attack in April was the mass abduction of more than 200 girls from their boarding school. Now boys are again the target. The group, whose name means Western education is the sinful, says boys should receive only a Koranic education. Some have had their throats slit as they slept in their dorm beds. Girls are warned to give up their books, go home and get married. The Army announced last month that the missing schoolgirls would soon be released as part of a deal with Boko Haram. The group's leader tauntingly insists the captives have been married off to his fighters after converting to Islam.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Yola.

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