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Death Toll in Nigerian Militant Attack Rises to 143

Nigerian officials say the death toll from an attack by Islamist militants earlier this week has risen to 143.

An official with the Environmental Protection Agency says authorities have been collecting corpses since the attack took place Tuesday in northeastern Borno state.

Militants believed to be from the group Boko Haram burned scores of homes and buildings in and around the town of Benisheik. Residents say the militants also pulled people from their cars to kill them.

Local witnesses told VOA that the Boko Haram fighters were better armed than soldiers who tried to fight them, and that the militants looted the town, taking away food and numerous vehicles.

In a separate incident on Friday, Nigerian officials say nine suspected members of Boko Haram were killed in a gunbattle with security agents in the capital, Abuja.

The state security force says several other people were wounded in the early morning clash, which happened in at an unfinished home in a community for Nigerian lawmakers.

Spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar says two captured Boko Haram members had told agents about a buried stash of weapons at the site.

"And so a joint security team had to proceed to recover the arms. So when they got here, they came under attack, and of course they had to respond back."

Ogar told reporters that 12 Boko Haram suspects were arrested.

Two self-professed Boko Haram members were brought in front of reporters and admitted to belonging to the group.

Residents of the community told VOA they doubted the young men were Boko Haram members, saying they were paying rent to stay in the house.

Boko Haram says it is fighting to impose a strict form of Islamic law on Nigeria's Muslim-majority north. The militants have been blamed for thousands of deaths since launching an insurgency against the government in 2009.

Borno is one of three northeastern states where President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency and deployed additional troops in May to fight Boko Haram. Rights groups have criticized the military for heavy-handed operations they say have led to hundreds more deaths.

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