Hundreds of people fled their homes on Saturday in northeast Nigeria after deadly all-night gun battles between Islamists and security forces, police and residents said. The latest clashes with the Islamist sect Boko Haram came amid growing fears of wider religious violence in Africa’s most populous nation, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
The previous night, 10 people were gunned down in a church, the latest such attack in an escalating wave of violence since Christmas Day bombings of churches and other targets killed scores of people.
Police said after the overnight fighting in the northeastern town of Potiskum, where the Islamists attacked a police headquarters and robbed and burnt two banks, that they had not yet determined the death toll.
“Our men engaged Boko Haram gunmen in shootouts for most of the night, which led to some deaths and injuries,” Yobe state police commissioner Lawan Tanko told AFP. “It is too early to give figures because we are still investigating the incident.”
Dozens of soldiers were deployed on Saturday and took up positions around the police headquarters, firing sporadically. The town is part of a region placed under emergency rule by President Goodluck Jonathan a week earlier.
Dozens of Islamists stormed Potiskum and launched gun and bomb attacks on the police headquarters. They also threw a bomb into a nearby police barracks but no-one was hurt, said residents.
People in nearby neighbourhoods fled their homes in fear of military raids in the aftermath of the attack, they said.