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2 members of radical Islamist sect killed in Nigeria, military official says

Soldiers manning a checkpoint in northern Nigeria shot to death two ranking members of a radical Islamist sect responsible for hundreds of killings this year alone, a military official said Monday.

The dead included the spokesman for the sect known as Boko Haram, as well as a commander who operates in Kogi state south of Nigeria's capital, the official said. The killings could prove to be a boon to Nigeria's security forces, which remain largely unable to stop guerrilla attacks and bombings by the sect, which killed another 10 people this weekend alone, authorities said.

The shooting occurred Monday morning in Mariri, a town to the southeast of Kano, the largest city in Nigeria's Muslim north. There, soldiers stopped a vehicle with the sect spokesman, the commander, the spokesman's wife and their children, the official said. It is unclear what happened next, though the official said soldiers shot dead both the commander and the spokesman. The wife and children remain in military custody, the official said.

The wife told soldiers the men had accompanied her to Kano as she sought medical help, the official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the information was not to be made immediately public Monday. Lt. Iweha Ikedichi, a military spokesman in the region, later told journalists that soldiers had only killed one man, the Boko Haram spokesman. However, the official who spoke to The Associated Press had been at the scene of the attack and offered further details about the scene.

Government officials may be hesitating as they previously claimed to have arrested the sect's spokesman, who uses the nom de guerre Abul Qaqa when speaking to journalists. Confusion over his death sparked threats by the sect against journalists who previously reported on the government claim.

Boko Haram, which speaks to reporters in conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

The sect, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, has been waging an increasingly bloody fight against the nation's government. More than 680 people have died in drive-by killings and bombings blamed on Boko Haram this year alone, according to a count by The Associated Press. The sect has demanded the release of all its captive members and has called for strict Shariah law to be implemented across the entire country.

This weekend, authorities blamed Boko Haram for 12 killings, including a security agent and three of his family members in Kano and eight people in Bauchi state.