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Nigeria: More Than 700 Dead in Last Week's Clashes

Nigerian authorities say more than 700 people were killed in last week's clashes between police and a militant Islamic sect in the country's north.

Government and health officials have been clearing bodies from the streets of the northeastern city of Maiduguri which saw the heaviest fighting. Government officials say most of the dead have been buried in mass graves.

Police officials continue to search for members of the sect, known as Boko Haram, who are blamed for violence that erupted a week ago after security forces arrested some of the group's leaders. For five days, the militants attacked police stations, churches and government buildings in four northern Nigerian states.

Later in the week, security forces retaliated with an attack on the group's headquarters. The Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed Thursday while in police custody. Officials insist he died in a gun battle near his headquarters in Maiduguri. Iinternational human rights groups have called for an investigation into the killing.

Police say former Borno State commissioner for Religious Affairs Alhaji Buji Fai, who is a Boko Haram supporter, was also killed in the violence. How he died is unclear.

Police have rejected reports that Boko Haram is affiliated with international terrorist groups. A police official, Naralyn Ogar, said that despite calling themselves "the Nigerian Taliban," the Boko Haram religious fundamentalists have no affiliation with outside organizations.

Boko Haram followers want northern Nigeria to adopt a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Boko Haram, loosely translated, means "Western education is sinful."

A dozen of Nigeria's 36 states have introduced strict Islamic law in the past decade. The country is roughly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, with Islam predominant in the northern part of the country. Periodic clashes between the two populations have left thousands of people dead in recent years.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.