DAMATURU, Nigeria, April 6 (Reuters) - Islamist militants attacked a remote town in northeast Nigeria's Yobe state on Saturday, killing 17 people including five who were worshipping at a mosque, witnesses said.
They said dozens of gunmen surrounded the village of Buni Gari, shooting residents and setting shops and houses ablaze.
"There were too many of them to count. They were shouting 'God is Great'," said an old woman who identified herself only as Kaka, glancing around at the mostly mud-and-thatch houses, many of which were stained with black soot or reduced to rubble.
"People were praying in the mosque and they surrounded it and killed them," she told Reuters at the scene on Sunday.
Boko Haram militants, fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria, have in the past year broadened the range of their targets beyond security forces, government officials and Christians to include schoolchildren and other civilians, sometimes massacring whole villages and abducting girls.
They regard all who do not subscribe to their austere, al-Qaeda inspired brand of Islam, whether Christian or Muslim, as apostates, although they only began attacking civilians in large numbers after the formation of pro-government civilian militia as a counterinsurgency tactic a year ago.
A military crackdown since last May has failed to stem the insurgency, which remains the leading security threat to Africa's top oil producer and has blighted President Goodluck Jonathan's record ahead of elections next February.
Thousands have died in the violence over the past four and a half years, and many local security forces are ill-equipped to deal with the insurgency. One soldier in the Buni Gari area told Reuters his colleagues were unable to coordinate reinforcements because few have radios and they were out of range of mobile phone signals.
"I am moving out of that town. I will not come back with my family," said Adamu Isa, a businessman in Buni Gari. "I don't want my children to witness what happened in that place again." (Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Kevin Liffey)