Nigeria’s army chief of staff said on Saturday it had killed more than 50 members of a violent Islamist sect in a shootout in the northeastern city of Damaturu.
A sustained gun battle broke out between Nigerian security forces and suspected members of the Boko Haram militant group late on Friday, killing at least 19 people, initial reports suggested.
But Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Azubuike Ihejirika said in comments broadcast on a local radio station in northern Nigeria that Boko Haram had suffered heavy casualties in the fighting.
“There was a major encounter with Boko Haram in Damaturu and we over ran their stronghold and their ammunition site … We lost three of our soldiers, seven were wounded, but we killed over 50 of them,” he said.
“They came with sophisticated and heavy weaponry … and bombs but our trained soldiers subdued them.”
There was no immediate comment from Boko Haram, who rarely give public statements.
The group, whose name roughly translates as “Western learning is forbidden” has been blamed for scores of shootings and bombings in the north, including a spate of attacks in the past few weeks across the region.
Clashes between security forces and the Boko Haram sect have become increasingly frequent in the past couple of weeks, as the north’s simmering conflict escalates, though the insurgency remains low level and sporadic.
On Friday suspected sect members opened fire on a group of policemen shortly after Friday prayers in Damaturu, killing four, local police officials said.
The city was the scene of the most deadly Boko Haram assault to date, when 65 people were killed in a wave of shootings and bombings on November 5 that left churches, police stations and mosques reduced to smouldering rubble.
This year the Islamists extended their reach out of its northern heartlands to strike the capital Abuja twice, including a suicide car bomb attack against the U.N. headquarters that killed 26 people.