MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Fighting between Nigeria's military and the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram killed at least 24 people in a northeast Nigerian city that remains in the grip of violence, witnesses and officials said Tuesday.
Soldiers dropped off 24 corpses at the Borno State Specialist Hospital in Maiduguri, where explosions and gunfire rang out into the night Monday, a worker there said. Most of the dead wore the long, flowing robes favored by Boko Haram members and soldiers identified the dead as suspected members, the worker said. However, there was no independent investigation immediately carried out Tuesday to determine their identities.
The worker spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of angering either the military or the sect.
Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, a military spokesman in the city, said the dead were all Boko Haram members. However, the military routinely claims everyone it kills belongs to the sect, despite incidents where dozens of civilians have been killed by soldiers.
Musa said only one soldier suffered an injury during the fighting Monday, though residents of the neighborhoods where the attacks took place said they saw other wounded people wearing military fatigues. Boko Haram fighters used small-arms fire, as well as rocket-propelled grenades in their attack, Musa said.
"The atmosphere in Maiduguri has been normalized since the early hours of Tuesday as people are going about their normal businesses," Musa said in a statement. However, soldiers continued to deny people access Tuesday to the Zannari and Gwange neighborhoods in the city.
The fighting Monday saw at least one school burned down, witnesses said.
Attacks in Maiduguri, Boko Haram's spiritual home, have grown increasingly commonplace, but the apparent sustained strikes, which began Monday afternoon and continued into the evening, saw soldiers lock down nearly every street in the city center.
Boko Haram has been launching guerrilla attacks against Nigeria's weak central government for months as part of its efforts to free its imprisoned members and enact strict Islamic law across the multi-ethnic nation largely halved between Christians and Muslims. In recent days, it has begun a renewed offensive in Maiduguri.
On Oct. 5, a bombing in Maiduguri by suspected Boko Haram members that killed an army lieutenant sparked a violent retaliation by soldiers. Troops opened fire with assault rifles and heavy machine guns mounted on armored personnel carriers on a busy street near the local headquarters of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, according to witnesses.
Afterward, an Associated Press journalist counted the bodies of more than 30 dead civilians and saw more than 50 shops and homes burned.
The military later denied it killed civilians, but offered contradictory explanations about what happened. Activists say they worry that other recent military strikes against Boko Haram may have killed civilians as well.
Boko Haram, which speaks to journalists in telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment Monday night. The sect has killed more than 690 people this year alone, according to an AP count.