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14 civilians killed in attack in Nigeria market

world Updated: Feb 23, 2012 01:38 IST

At least 14 civilians died in a market in northeast Nigeria during an attack by a radical Islamist sect, and in the security crackdown that followed, an official said on Tuesday, as gunmen killed three others in an armored bank robbery.

The killings at the market on Monday, though denied by the military, come as the sect known as Boko Haram continues to attack at will throughout Nigeria's north.

While authorities continue to downplay violence by the group, Boko Haram is blamed the deaths of at least 303 people this year alone in the nation, according to an Associated Press count.

The attack happened on Monday at the Baga Market in Maiduguri, where traders sell fish from nearby Lake Chad. People at the market said they believe the attack by the sect came because traders helped apprehend a suspected armed member of Boko Haram days earlier, who was later apprehended by authorities and killed.

Traders fled at the sound of an explosion as a group of young men attacked the market. Soldiers moved in shortly after, starting a gun battle with sect members, said Lt. Col. Hassan Ifeji Mohammed, a military spokesman.

Mohammed said only eight sect members died in the violence. But an official in the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was scared of contradicting authorities, said police records showed at least 14 traders in the market were killing during the attack.

Boko Haram is waging an increasingly violent campaign against Nigeria's weak central government in its quest to enact strict Shariah law, free detained members and avenge Muslim deaths in the nation.

Attacks by the sect, including those specifically targeting Christians, have widened distrust between the two faiths in the multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people. Nigeria is largely split between a Christian south and a Muslim north, and most of Boko Haram's previous attacks have taken place in the north.

Meanwhile Tuesday, police said three people and two gunmen died when robbers ambushed an armored van carrying money for the Borno state treasury - where Maiduguri is the capital.

Borno state police spokesman Samuel Tizhe said the assailants shot dead two police officers and a bank worker Tuesday who were traveling in an armored van from Maiduguri to Damaturu, cities about 80 miles (130 kilometers) apart.

Tizhe said police officers guarding the van killed two suspected robbers in the attack, but three more people were injured before the robbers escaped with "a huge sum of money."

He said authorities did not immediately suspect gunmen from Boko Haram of carrying out the attack.

Boko Haram has splintered into three factions, with one wing increasingly willing to kill as it maintains contact with terror groups in North Africa and Somalia, diplomats and security sources say. They also say the sect has resorted to bank robberies and other thefts to fund their operations, while also receiving outside funding.