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Heavy Clashes Between Soldiers, Militants in N. Nigeria

  • VOA News

FILE - A Nigerian soldier is seen operating a weapon atop a truck.

FILE - A Nigerian soldier is seen operating a weapon atop a truck.

Fierce fighting is reported in the northeastern Nigerian city of Bama, with soldiers trying to repel an attack by Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Witnesses say hundreds of militants, traveling in trucks and armored vehicles, advanced toward the city early Monday, but were intercepted by Nigerian soldiers from a local barracks.

A local security official, Muhuammed Gava, told VOA that soldiers pushed back the initial assault but the militants regrouped and attacked again. It was not clear by mid-day whether Boko Haram had seized control of the city, located about 70 kilometers from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri.

Military sources who spoke to journalists in Maiduguri say 70 militants have been killed in the fighting and another 30 were wounded. There was no immediate word on casualties for the army.

This is Boko Haram's third major attack on Bama, following assaults in May 2013 and February of this year.

In recent weeks, the group has seized parts of Borno state, including the town of Gwoza, for what Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau called an "Islamic caliphate."

The group's stated goal is to establish a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

The militants have killed thousands of people in the past five years in attacks on schools, markets, places of worship, government buildings and police and military targets.

The Nigerian government has come under intense criticism for failing to stop the insurgency. Analysts have noted the militants appear to be better-armed than the military, which nevertheless has vowed it will not give up any territory to the group.

Concern is rising that militants may soon attack Maiduguri. The army on Monday expanded a nighttime curfew in the city from nine to 11 hours, lasting from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

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