(Updates with comment from police from first paragraph.)
Dec. 24 (Bloomberg) -- At least 72 people died in two days of fighting between Nigerian security forces and a militant Islamic group in the northeastern city of Damaturu, military and police officials said.
“There was a major encounter with the Boko Haram in Damaturu,” Chief of Army Staff Azubuike Ihejirika told reporters yesterday in Abuja, the capital. “In the encounter, we lost three of our soldiers, seven were wounded. But we killed over 50 of their members.”
Seven policemen and 12 civilians also died in the fighting since Dec. 22, sparked when militants attacked the city with explosives and gunfire, Tanko Lawal, the police commissioner in Damaturu, said today by phone. “There could be more corpses.” Fighting and bomb attacks have since spread to two other northeastern cities of Potiskum and Maiduguri, according to the police.
Authorities in Africa’s top oil producer blame the Boko Haram, which draws inspiration from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, for a surge of violence in the mainly Muslim north and Abuja in which hundreds of people have died this year. The group, whose name translates as “Western education is a sin,” claimed responsibility for a suicide car-bomb attack on the United Nations building in the capital on Aug. 26 that killed 24 people.
It claimed multiple Christmas Eve blasts last year in the central city of Jos that left 80 people dead, and another on New Year’s Eve at an Abuja military barracks that killed at least 12 people.
Nigerian security forces had information the militants planned to cause “mayhem” during the current “festive season,” Ihejirika said. “We have put in place measures to nip this plan in the bud.”
Improvised factories run by the group for producing explosive devices were discovered in three cities, Damaturu, Maiduguri and Kano, in the past week, police said. Among the findings in Kano was a car laden with explosives, probably prepared for a suicide attack, police said.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country of more than 160 million people, is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. More than 14,000 people died in ethnic and religious clashes in the West African nation between 1999 and 2009, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
--With assistance from Dulue Mbachu in Abuja. Editors: Dulue Mbachu, Emily Bowers
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