Bauchi — The military Saturday repelled an attack on Gombe by Boko Haram who, as they retreated, warned residents not to participate in the country's elections in March.

Scores of the rebels assaulted Gombe in the morning and engaged in heavy fighting with the army. Two air force jets also attacked the rebels.

The Boko Haram fighters left in a convoy of vehicles carrying dozens of corpses, according to residents.

"They were heard telling our people in the villages leading to Gombe that they have not come to harm civilians but the security agents. They were also dropping copies of papers with messages ?written in Hausa warning people not to participate in the coming elections, lest they risk being killed," said resident Malam Hassan.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the message in which Boko Haram warned that its fighters will attack all polling stations in the March 28 elections. The Boko Haram paper also said residents should not assist the army and pledged not to attack those who stayed out of its fight against the government.

"We are calling on you all to come and join us in the Jihad and embrace Islamic Sharia jurisprudence," said the papers dropped by Boko Haram.

The fiercest fighting was about three kilometers outside the town, resident Jummai Aliyu said.

Gombe has previously been attacked multiple times, including by a car bomb in December that killed at least 20 people.

On Friday, the group staged its first attack on Chadian territory, bringing to three the number of neighboring countries roped into what had previously been an internal Nigerian conflict. The targeted village, Ngouboua, was already home to nearly 3,300 refugees who had fled Boko Haram-related violence in Nigeria, according to the U.N.

Cameroon and Niger have also been attacked. Along with Benin, all three have vowed to contribute to a regional force against Boko Haram that is expected to be launched in the coming weeks, though funding questions remain unsettled.

– AP