Nigeria says helicopter strike kills 17 Islamist fighters

Fri Feb 1, 2013 12:02pm EST
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By Ibrahim Mshelizza

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigerian authorities said on Friday security forces backed by helicopter gunships killed 17 militants and destroyed two training camps belonging to Islamist sect Boko Haram, one in a forest and one in a game reserve.

Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, spokesman for joint military and police forces in Borno state, said one soldier had also been killed in the firefights, which cast fresh doubt on a ceasefire declared by one purported Boko Haram commander this week.

"The camp was properly ... fortified and had training facilities, an armory, accommodation, a drug store, kitchen, vehicle holding area, latrine and water points," Musa said. It was not clear which of the two camps he was referring to.

"The camp was used to conduct training and carry out recent attacks, killings and bombings," he said. Borno state is the sect's headquarters and the worst affected by the insurgency.

There was no immediate reaction from Boko Haram, whose militants have destabilized Africa's top energy producer and raised fears it could become a base for the operations of al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups in the Sahara.

Sheik Abu Mohammed Ibn Abdulazeez declared a unilateral ceasefire on Monday, urging members to halt attacks that have killed hundreds since the group launched an insurgency against the government in 2009.

Nigerian authorities welcomed the move but said they would not cease military operations to maintain security.

Violence by suspected sect members has persisted, raising doubts about the commander's authority. Gunmen killed at least five police in two attacks in northern Nigeria on Thursday.   Continued...