Scores of fighters have been killed as Nigerian security forces stormed into a mosque where militants belonging to a hard-line Islamic sect – Boko Haram – allegedly responsible for days of deadly violence were holed up, say media reports.
Security forces entered the mosque in the northern city of Maiduguri after three days of fierce gun battles with Boko Haram rebels, who demand the imposition of Sharia law across the country.
A top military official confirmed that the deputy leader of the sect was among those killed in the bombardment, added the reports.
Several rebels, including Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, escaped the action with nearly 300 odd followers, who attacked several police stations along their way.
Correspondents covering the forces’ action say nearly 100 people, including 50 inside the mosque, were killed in the action.
Some 300 people have been killed in four days of violence since nearly a thousand sect followers triggered attacks on police stations and government buildings in Maiduguri.
Sharia law is in place across the country’s predominantly Muslim north, while the south is inhabited by Christians who constitute nearly half of the country’s 150 million people.
After night-long battles, authorities in Maiduguri, capital of the Borno state, claimed to have routed the rebels on Thursday.
“Security personnel have succeeded in dislodging the militants and I urge everyone to go about their normal duties,” Reuters quoted Borno state governor Ali Modu Sheriff as saying on state radio.
Sheriff added that house to house searches were still continuing in the area and warned that anybody found to be harbouring the rebels would face grim consequences under the Nigerian law.
President Umaru Yar’Adua has ordered Nigeria’s national security agencies to take all necessary action to contain and repel attacks by the extremists, reported BBC on its website.