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Details on weekend Nigerian clash remain murky

The Nigerian newspaper Vanguard has quoted an army spokesman as saying troops killed 150 Boko Haram insurgents last weekend. At least 16 soldiers also died in what Vanguard says could have been an operation gone wrong.

A Nigerian army spokesman quoted by the newspaper Vanguard on Wednesday denied defense source claims that 100 troops ran into an ambush at the weekend. Instead the army said it had killed 150 Boko Haram sect fighters.

Brigadier General Ibrahim Attahiru told the English-language newspaper that troops attacked a group of insurgents at a camp in Kafiya forest in the northeastern state of Borno, acting on an intelligence report.

"The troops killed 150 insurgents while one lieutenant and 15 soldiers lost their lives," Attahiru reportedly said. Soldiers had found anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns mounted on vehicles in the camp.

Among those killed was Abba Goroma, a sect commander wanted by Nigeria's government on a $615,000 (461,000 euro) bounty.

The encounter had taken place at the weekend, but the army only gave notification late on Tuesday, reported Vanguard.

Soldiers ambushed?

Vanguard, however, also reported that "multiple defense sources" had claimed that a planned aerial bombardment was scrapped at the last minute and 100 troops approached the insurgents unaware that they lacked backing.

Attahiri had dismissed as a "fabrication" the sources' claim that at least 40 soldiers were killed and 65 others went missing, Vanguard said.

The widely read Punch newspaper, citing a high-ranking military source, also said the military had failed to send aerial support for the soldiers who were ambushed.

According to the paper, the failure to send air support had led to anger among soldiers involved in the pursuit of Boko Haram.

The military had claimed major successes in the operation, describing the insurgents as being in disarray.

Phone networks blocked

Borno is one of three predominantly Muslim northern Nigerian states which are under emergency regulations imposed by the federal government in May.

Shutdowns of mobile phone networks to block insurgents from coordinating attacks have also hampered independent reporting from the area.

Boko Haram has often carried out attacks aimed primarily at Christians and students. It initial campaign was to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria under the slogan "Western education is sinful."

Since 2009, about 1,500 people have died in the conflict.

ipj/mz (dpa, AFP)

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