Nigeria’s president placed security forces on maximum alert after two days of battles that radical Islamists in the north which witnesses said yesterday had left more than 150 dead.
While authorities have so far confirmed only 55 deaths in the states of Bauchi and Yobe, journalists in the capital of a third state said they had seen scores of bodies dumped at the local police headquarters.
“Over 100 dead bodies have been deposited at the premises of the police headquarters and more are still being brought in,” local journalist Ibrahim Bala said from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
Bala said that police were picking up the bodies of slain militants from the streets of the city where a curfew has been imposed.
“Fighting has stopped since last night but bodies are still being taken to the police headquarters in vans and trucks,” he said.
Witnesses said around 200 militant Islamists kept an overnight vigil outside a mosque in the city as well as the home of their spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf.
In neighboring Yobe state, police said they were combing forests near the town of Potiskum after the militants torched a police station and killed a policeman and a firefighter.
“Our men are now battling these extremists in nearby forests where they fled after we dealt with them here,” a police official who cannot be named because he does not have authority to speak to the media, said.
Truckloads of armed police were seen leaving a police base and heading towards the forests.
“We killed so many of them [yesterday],” another Potiskum policeman said.
The clashes which erupted on Sunday have so far been contained to four northern Muslim states in Africa’s most populous nation.
Churches and government buildings have been torched by groups of militants who have been dubbed Nigeria’s Taliban.
The unrest is the deadliest sectarian violence in Nigeria since last November when human rights groups say up to 700 were killed in and around the city of Jos in Muslim-Christian clashes.
Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, himself a Muslim from the north, ordered security forces on maximum alert in a decree issued late on Monday.
The president “ordered national security agencies to take all necessary action to contain and repel the sad and shocking attacks by extremists.”
He also “directed that security be beefed up in all neighboring states and security personnel placed on full alert to ensure that the attacks by misguided elements do not spread elsewhere,” a statement said.