Kano - A widespread attack in northern Nigeria by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram may have killed hundreds in at least 11 locations, officials indicated on Thursday.
The number of people killed is still unclear, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said however that the 11 villages had also been set on fire.
Alhaji Baba Abba Hassan, head of the town of Baga that is located in the middle of the 11 villages, put the death toll at "possibly" several hundred in remarks to local media.
Both officials dismissed reports the death toll could reach 2 000.
"Many people from the villages fled into the bush," a security official living in Borno told dpa.
The Baga village leader said the largest casualties may be from Baga "because of the heavy population" while the other villages have fewer people.
Since telephone communications are sketchy, it often takes a long time for credible information to be passed along. Hassan said he would be getting more information.
Authorities were sending aid to the region.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini expressed shock over the attacks, which occurred Wednesday, and cited reports that said hundreds had been killed and thousands sent fleeing.
Boko Haram is said to have attacked Baga several days previously, taking over a military base. Local media said Baga residents had fled into Chad, and that there were many dead.
Boko Haram aims to establish an Islamic religious state in northern Nigeria and bordering Cameroon and Chad. The organization has killed thousands this year in oil-rich western Nigeria alone. The attacks have been on the uptick recently, which experts connect to upcoming presidential elections in February.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday denounced Wednesday's terrorist attack on the French satire newspaper Charlie Hebdo that killed 12, but did not mention Wednesday's attacks in the north of his country.
Earlier on Thursday, President Paul Biya of Cameroon called for international help to stop Boko Haram, a day after the Islamist terrorist group threatened to escalate attacks in Cameroon.
"From Mali to Somalia to the Central African Republic, these terrorists have the same agenda," said Biya. "A global threat requires a global response."
Biya responded to a video message posted on YouTube on Wednesday, in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said the insurgents will target Cameroon more forcefully if its army continued operations against them.
"Oh Paul Biya, if you don't stop this, your evil plot, you will taste what has befallen Nigeria ... Your troops cannot do anything to us," Shekau said in Arabic.
Biya declared war on Boko Haram at a security summit in May, after the group launched frequent infiltrations into Cameroon from neighbouring Nigeria.
The president deployed more than a thousand troops and special units to the Far North Region. The soldiers have killed dozens of insurgents over the past months.
Biya said he was disappointed, however, that a multinational security force planned during a summit in Paris had not yet been set up.