Extremists flee in Nigeria

Troops pound parts of a northern city overnight after reinforcements are sent in to help rout fleeing members of an extremist sect whose base they rased.

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Troops pounded parts of a northern Nigeria city overnight after reinforcements were sent in to help rout fleeing members of an extremist sect whose base they rased, witnesses said. Residents heard sounds of heavy and light machine gunfire rattling across sections of the capital not previously targeted on the fifth day of deadly clashes. The latest gun battles came just hours after the army announced bolstering its ranks with 1,000 more soldiers to fight members of the self-styled Taliban sect.

"Fighting is still going on between the military and Boko Haram. Throughout the night, we heard gunfire coming from Shokai and Dekwa Lowcost [suburbs]," Mala Bukar, a resident of an adjacent neighbourhood said. "Up to this morning fighting is still continuing and from where we are we can hear the sound of heavy and light machineguns." An army commander said members of the Nigerian fundamentalist sect fled their bases in northern city of Maiduguri yesterday after the military overran their mosque and leader's house base.

Col Ben Ahonotu, commander of the operation against the self-styled Taliban, said: "We have taken over their enclave, they are on the run and we are going after them." Residents said they saw scores of militants pass through their area yesterday and head out of the city, some of them disguised themselves by cutting off their hair and beards. "We spotted dozens of members of Boko Haram fleeing. They stopped by briefly, shaved their hair and beard and discarded their trademark jellabiyah (white Arabic caftans) for T-shirts and jeans, and moved on," one resident.

"They crossed the Gamboru market river and disappeared from there." Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, has seen the worst of the unrest in northern Nigeria which started on Sunday in Baluchi state when militants attacked a police station. It has been the birthplace and stronghold of the fundamentalists who are opposed to Western education and values. The Nigerian extremists emerged in 2002 in Maiduguri before setting up a camp on the border with Niger, from where they launched a series of attacks on the police.

The leadership has previously said it intends to lead an armed insurrection and rid society of "immorality" and "infidelity". President Umaru Yar'Adua had ordered the armed forces to crush the movement "once and for all". Fighting yesterday concentrated on enclaves of Maiduguri believed to house the sect's leader Mohammed Yusuf. The death toll from the clashes has already surged past 300 and thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence.