Fighting continues in Nigeria

Three days of clashes between militants and security forces in the north leave at least 250 dead, residents say.

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Fighting raged through the night around a militant stronghold in northern Nigeria after three days of clashes with security forces that left at least 250 dead, residents said today. "We kept hearing sounds of gunshots throughout the night. I believe the moonlight enabled them to fight," Abdul Mimini Hassan, a local resident, said by telephone in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state. Mr Hassan said the firing subsided at around 4.30am in the Bayan Quarters neighbourhood.

But it appeared the clashes had spread to the adjacent neighbourhood of Ungwani Shamu, about one kilometre away, with local residents suspecting the military of tracking down remnants of the sect. "Now I can hear sporadic gunshots outside our neighbourhood, and we are about a kilometre away from the Taliban base," Mr Hassan said. "Although we can't go out because of the clashes and the risk involved, I believe the fighting is between pockets of members of the Taliban and the military."

Most of the fatalities of three days of fighting in this northern city are thought to be members of a militant group inspired by the Taliban in Afghanistan that wants to see an Islamist state in northern Nigeria. On Tuesday, troops shelled the mosque and home of the sect's leader Mohammed Yusuf to end the uprising by the group who have said they want to lead an armed insurrection and rid society of "immorality" and "infidelity".

President Umaru Yar'Adua said the group would be routed and punished. The military operation under way will "contain them once and for all," he said, adding: "They will be dealt with squarely and forthwith." Fresh fighting broke out here late yesterday after the assault on Yusuf's base. "We are not sure whether he has been killed in the shelling or has managed to escape," a police officer said of Mr Yusuf.