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Nigerian military claims dozens dead in Boko Haram raid

The Nigerian military claims to have killed dozens of Boko Haram Islamist fighters in a battle in the city of Damaturu. The group seeks to establish Shariah law in the Muslim north of the country.

Nigerian armed forces went door-to-door in three neighborhoods of Damaturu, killing 35 Boko Haram militants in "a fierce exchange of gunfire," a military spokesman said on Monday.

"The operation, which lasted throughout Sunday night and continued into the early hours of Monday, recorded fierce exchanges of fire between Joint Task Force troops and the terrorists," JTF spokesman Eli Lazarus said in a statement. Two members of the JTF were also injured, he said.

Damaturu, the capital of the northern Yobe state, has been attacked in the past by Boko Haram. Lazarus said the JTF had lifted 24-hour curfews imposed on Damaturu and neighboring Potiskum after the operation.

The raid comes after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside of a Catholic church in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi on Sunday, killing at least two people and wounding another 46. Boko Haram has frequently attacked Christian churches in the past.

Carrot and stick

The Nigerian government has launched a crackdown on the Islamist sect while also engaging it in backdoor talks in a bid to end the violence. Boko Haram, which means Western education is sacrilege, has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths since it stepped up its insurgency in 2010.

One of the worst runs occurred last January, when a series of coordinated gun and bomb attacks killed a total of 186 people over the course of two days in the northern city of Kano.

There is growing concern that Boko Haram could be forging ties with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as well as militants based in northern Mali. The United States has blacklisted three of Boko Haram's leaders as global terrorists. But Washington has so far shied away from labeling the whole organization as a terrorist group, saying that its goals are largely limited to Nigeria.

Nigeria - with more than 170 milllion people, Africa's most populous nation - is 50 percent Muslim and 40 percent Christian.

slk/jm (AFP, Reuters)