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700 have died in Nigeria unrest

Fighting between police and a radical Islamist sect, Boko Haram, broke out last week. In the northern city of Maiduguri, bodies litter the streets and mass burials are underway.

August 02, 2009|Associated Press

MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA — A Nigerian military official said Saturday that about 700 people were killed in the northern city of Maiduguri during recent fighting between police and a radical Islamist sect. The toll was previously thought to be around 300.

Col. Ben Ahanotu said mass burials had begun because bodies were decomposing in the heat. The Islamist compound destroyed last week by government troops is one of the burial sites, he said.

An official at Umaru Shehu hospital, who asked not to be named because he feared more violence, said five more people were killed Saturday, their bodies left in the parking lot. He said people were going to the hospital to remove sick relatives so they wouldn't get caught up in the killings.

In a wave of violence that began a week ago, the sect, Boko Haram -- the name means "Western education is sacrilege" -- attacked police stations, churches and government buildings. The group is seeking the imposition of strict Islamic Sharia law in Nigeria.

On Wednesday, troops retaliated, killing about 100 people, half of them in the sect's mosque. The bodies of barefoot young men littered the streets of Maiduguri on Thursday morning as security forces hunted militants.

Mohammed Yusuf, head of the Boko Haram sect, was killed Thursday after he was found hiding in a goat pen at his in-laws' home. Human rights groups have called for investigations of Yusuf's death and other killings.

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