MAIDUGURI Nigerian forces shot dead 16 suspected militants in a fire fight with Islamist sect Boko Haram on Tuesday, the military said.
A Reuters reporter heard gunfire and explosions echoing through the remote city of Maiduguri, in Nigeria's dry, dusty northeast.
Boko Haram, which wants to create an Islamic state in parts of Nigeria, has been blamed for hundreds of bomb and gun attacks on security forces and civilians over the past two years.
It has become the main security threat in Nigeria, Africa's top energy producer, and has linked up with other Islamist groups in the region such as al Qaeda's north African wing, although it is based far from oil producing facilities in the south.
"Some suspected Boko Haram terrorists attempted to open fire on (security) operatives but could not succeed. We have so far shot dead 16 of the terrorists during a shoot out," field operations officer for north-eastern Borno state, Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, told Reuters by telephone.
He said Nigerian forces had seized weapons and ammunition from the suspects and destroyed some of their home-made bombs in controlled explosions.
"We were able to achieve this feat based on information from the public," he said. "There were no casualties on our side".
There was no immediate comment from Boko Haram.
The sect claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing of a church in northern Nigeria on Sunday that killed at least 12 people, continuing a growing pattern of attacks on Christian worshippers.
Several attempts to end the sect's insurgency militarily have failed. Although officials say they have been weakened in recent months by the killing and arrest of some senior commanders, they remain capable of lethal attacks.
Suspected Islamist militants shot dead a retired police deputy, his driver and two aides in the north's main city of Kano on Tuesday, police there said.
(Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; Additional reporting by Bala Adamu; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)