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185 Reported Dead in Northern Nigeria Fighting

Dozens of people have been killed in northern Nigeria during fierce fighting between Islamist militants and government security forces.

A local official, Lawan Kole, said 185 people died, although the AFP news agency quotes a Borno state military spokesman as saying that number is inflated.

The gun battles began Friday in the remote fishing village of Baga, forcing thousands of residents to flee the area.

Locals say the clashes began when troops surrounded a mosque that was allegedly sheltering members of the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram.

A shootout ensued, with militants using heavy weaponry including rocket-propelled grenades. Soldiers and local officials say the militants used civilians as human shields, while residents say soldiers purposefully set fires during the attack.



The high death toll includes civilians, soldiers and extremists but the exact number has not been verified.

The battle lasted for several hours on Friday, but news of the attack did not reach the Nigerian capital until Sunday.

Authorities blame Boko Haram for dozens of deadly bombings and shootings in northern Nigeria since 2009. Human Rights Watch says the Boko Haram-related violence has killed 3,000 people, a toll that includes killings by security forces.

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