Page last updated at 03:41 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 04:41 UK

Nigerian Islamist fighters 'flee'

A police car stands near a pile of belongings taken from dead suspected militants in Maiduguri, 29 July
Bodies (in the background) of suspected Islamists and their belongings lay in the streets of Maiduguri on Wednesday

Members of a Nigerian radical Islamist sect are fleeing the northern city of Maiduguri after the military overran their enclave, reports say.

The army has stormed the base of Boko Haram's leader, militants are fleeing the city and the military says it now has the upper hand.

The move came after the military drafted in 1,000 extra soldiers.

Earlier reports said the army had lost ground to militants who were using civilians as human shields.

At one point the local authorities said sect members had taken over six districts of the city.

A BBC correspondent says the authorities have been surprised by the support the militants have been able to gather.


We have taken over their enclave, they are on the run and we are going after them
Col Ben Ahanotu
Nigerian military

Boko Haram says it is fighting against Western education. It believes Nigeria's government is being corrupted by Western ideas and wants to see Taliban-style rule imposed across Nigeria.

More than 200 people have been killed in four days of clashes since an estimated 1,000 well-armed militants began attacking police stations and government buildings in Maiduguri.

President Umaru Yar'Adua earlier ordered Nigeria's national security agencies to take all necessary action to contain and repel attacks by the extremists.

The officer commanding the operation, Col Ben Ahanotu, said on Wednesday night: "We have taken over their enclave, they are on the run and we are going after them," reports AFP news agency.

The military told the BBC personal items found on the bodies of young men indicated that many had come from neighbouring Chad and Niger.

Security forces flooded into Maiduguri and began shelling sect leader Mohammed Yusuf's compound on Tuesday.

Fierce fighting continued through the night and into Wednesday with the militants returning heavy gunfire.


Pictures from Monday in Bauchi show the aftermath of violence

Also on Wednesday, police freed about 100 women and children who were being held by the sect in a building in Maiduguri.

The captives told the BBC they had been held for six days, living on dates and water.

Many of the women said their husbands were Boko Haram followers, and they had been forced to travel to Maiduguri from other parts of Nigeria.

Four states in northern Nigeria have been affected by Boko Haram unrest - Borno, Bauchi, Kano and Yobe.

A total of 103 deaths were officially reported in Maiduguri and reports say more than 50 people died in Bauchi and Yobe, but the true number of casualties may be much greater. There were also reports of Christian churches being torched.

Sharia law is in place across northern Nigeria, but there is no history of al-Qaeda-linked violence in the country.

The country's 150 million people are split almost equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.

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