Radical Islamists torched a police headquarters, a church and a customs office in northern Nigeria, residents said yesterday, as police put the death toll in weekend religious clashes at 65.
“Five policemen have been killed, one police station burnt and 60 Talibans killed,” police inspector-general Ogbonna Onovo told reporters, referring to a Nigerian Islamist sect styled on Afghanistan’s Taliban.
He said the death toll related to clashes in the neighboring states of Bauchi and Yobe, adding that new fighting was raging in nearby Borno state.
“They [militants] are out there in Maiduguri [Borno] now, battling with the police,” Nigeria’s police chief told a news conference in the capital Abuja.
Residents of Gamboru-Ngala in Borno state said heavily armed members of the sect stormed the town and went on the rampage, burning a police headquarters, a church and a customs post in the early hours of yesterday.
The fighting broke out Sunday in Bauchi state when police hit back at militants after they attacked a police station at dawn.
A gunbattle ensued, with the death toll there put at 39.
There were further clashes in Yobe state, Onovo told the news conference.
The Nigerian Taliban emerged in 2004 when it set up a base — dubbed Afghanistan — in Kanamma village in Yobe, on the border with Niger, from where it attacked police outposts and killed police officers.
Its membership is mainly drawn from university dropouts.
The north of Nigeria is majority Muslim, although large Christian minorities have settled in the main towns, raising tensions.
Since 1999 and the return of a civilian regime to Nigeria’s central government, 12 northern states have introduced Islamic Sharia law.
Police did not give a breakdown of the death toll by state, but 60 would amount to the highest number of casualties the Taliban sect has suffered in clashes with Nigerian authorities.
At least 176 people were arrested in Bauchi in the wake of the violence, which also forced the governor to declare an overnight curfew starting on Sunday.
“The curfew will be in place for as long as it requires to restore lasting peace in this city,” Isa Yuguda said, adding that had it not been for good intelligence, the situation would have been worse.
More than 700 people died in November in Jos, capital of Plateau state, when a political feud over a local election degenerated into bloody confrontation between Muslims and Christians.