MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian security forces killed 20 suspected militants of the Boko Haram sect in a shootout on Sunday as they raided an Islamist hideout in the country’s northeast, a security officer said.
One soldier was also killed in the shootout in Maiduguri, the capital of the Borno state, the officer said.
Boko Haram, an Islamist group styled on the Taliban, is waging an insurgency against the government with a view to creating an Islamic state in Nigeria, a country of more than 160 million split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.
Security forces had intelligence that some members of the group were holding a gathering at a location in Maiduguri, said Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, field operations officer of the military and police mixed Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno.
“When we approached the venue of their meeting point, the terrorists opened fire on the JTF, which led to the killing of 20 terrorists while we lost one soldier and two others sustained injury,” he said.
Boko Haram did not comment and it was not possible to independently confirm the report.
The Islamists have killed hundreds in gun and bomb attacks in Nigeria, Africa’s top energy producer, since they launched their uprising in 2012.
The violence has centred on the Borno state and other areas of the predominantly Muslim north, although it has spread outwards across central Nigeria and struck the capital Abuja in the past year. Suspected sect members opened fire on Christian worshippers in the central state of Kogi on Monday, killing 19.
A military crackdown on the sect in the past few months has had mixed results, apparently weakening it but also fuelling resentment against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in a poor region that has often felt left out of the country’s oil wealth, concentrated in the south.
On Saturday, Nigerian security forces discovered a bomb-making factory in Kano, the north’s biggest city.
The death of Boko Haram’s leader in police custody in 2009 is largely seen as what triggered the uprising.
Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo