MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Members of a radical Islamist sect ambushed an army patrol in Nigeria's restive northeast and killed 12 soldiers, a spokesman for the group said Monday.
The military disputed the claim by the sect known as Boko Haram, though residents of the neighborhood in Maiduguri where the attack happened said they heard the fierce gun battle and explosions Sunday night where the sect said they attacked the soldiers. Meanwhile, the sect said it beheaded three people who provided information about the group to authorities, a new tactic used by group willing to use violence in its fight against Nigeria's weak central government.
The attack Sunday night in Maiduguri, the spiritual home of Boko Haram, targeted a patrol of soldiers in the long-restive city.
"We are waxing stronger by the day despite the arrest of some of our top members," said a spokesman who used the nom de guerre Abul Qaqa. Nigeria's government previously has said it arrested a sect spokesman using that name.
Lt. Col. Hassan Ifeji Mohammed, a military spokesman, denied Boko Haram's claim, saying only two soldiers were wounded and the army killed 12 sect members. However, witnesses around the area said they saw the bodies of dead soldiers and Nigeria's security forces often downplay casualty figures.
Meanwhile, the sect has begun beheading those giving information about the group to authorities, the spokesman said. He said those beheaded were among a group of people who identified sect members to authorities. Those apprehended were immediately killed by the military, the spokesman said.
The military did not comment on the claims of so-called "extrajudicial" killings, though they often occur in Nigeria, a nation where security agencies often carry out retaliatory killings.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is carrying out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law and avenge Muslim killings in Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
This year, Boko Haram is blamed for killing at least 286 people, according to an Associated Press count. At least 185 people died in the sect's coordinated assault in January on Kano, the largest city of Nigeria's Muslim north.
Meanwhile Monday, authorities said security officers shot to death a government official who refused to have his car searched at the offices of the Kaduna state governor. State government spokesman Reuben Buhari and police spokesman Aminu Lawan said the shooting happened after the official rammed into a gate used by the state governor in the altercation.
Earlier, officials had feared the government official had been an attacker targeting the building.
The shooting comes a week after bombs targeting two major military bases and a highway overpass in Kaduna wounded an unknown number of people. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for that attack.
An Associated Press writer in Kaduna, Nigeria contributed to this report.