Nigeria army says kills 24 Boko Haram Islamists

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:34pm BST

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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria's military killed 24 members of the Boko Haram in a gun fight in the remote northeast town of Maiduguri where the Islamist sect has been based during a three-year long insurgency, the army said on Tuesday.

Boko Haram wants to carve an Islamic state out of Nigeria and remains the top security threat to Africa's leading oil producer. Western powers are worried about its growing links to more fiercely anti-Western jihadist groups in the region.

At least 2,800 people have died in fighting since the insurrection began, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. A recent crackdown by the military has brought a lull in the more coordinated and deadly attacks seen early this year.

"Twenty-four Boko Haram members have been killed by security operatives of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Gwange, Zannari and London Ciki wards of Maiduguri on Monday night," spokesman of the JTF Sagir Musa said in a press release.

Musa said one soldier was wounded and no civilians were injured. Nigeria's military, especially in remote areas like Maiduguri, often plays down its own casualties and those of members of the public, and exaggerates its successes.

HRW said last week that both Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces may have committed crimes against humanity during their conflict. The heavy-handed tactics of the army help feed support for Boko Haram, security experts say.

The majority of the sect's violence remains focused in the dusty and poverty-stricken northeast, where Africa's most populous nation borders Niger and Chad.

(Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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