Nigerian forces have shot dead an Islamist leader captured after an uprising that led to hundreds of deaths, with one police officer saying he pleaded for mercy before he was gunned down.
A senior police official said authorities killed the leader of the self-styled Taliban sect, Mohammed Yusuf, on Thursday after he tried to escape in the wake of an all-out assault by security forces to crush his movement.
"Mohammed Yusuf was killed by security forces in a shootout while trying to escape," Moses Anegbode, police assistant inspector-general for northeastern Nigeria told BRTV state television.
"I can confirm that has been killed and the body is with us."
A policeman earlier told AFP that the 39-year-old Yusuf had "pleaded for mercy and forgiveness before he was shot."
An AFP journalist saw his naked, bullet-riddled body lying on the grounds of the police headquarters among two dozen others brought in earlier from parts of the city.
State television footage shown to officials and journalists showed jubilant police celebrating around the body.
Yusuf's capture and death came after five days of clashes in northern Nigeria between Islamic extremists and security forces that killed at least 600 people, according to figures from police and witnesses.
Nigerian forces on Thursday put the extremists to flight after an all-out assault on their northern stronghold.
Troops raided the Islamists' headquarters in the northern city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, killing some 200 followers of the sect, including its deputy leader.
"The leader of the Taliban had been captured by the military who raided a house where he was hiding, close to his former residence that was destroyed," an army officer told reporters.
Calm returned to the city after the assault and residents began emerging from their homes on Friday.
Maiduguri had seen the worst of the unrest in northern Nigeria after the uprising began Sunday in nearby Bauchi state and spread to a total of four northern states.
Troops shelled the extremist sect's base in Maiduguri throughout the night from Wednesday to Thursday, and then gunned down followers as they tried to flee, witnesses and security sources said.
Yusuf's deputy, Abubakar Shekau, was killed along with 200 followers, a police officer said.
An AFP reporter saw dozens of bodies strewn on the grounds leading to the Taliban base that was the epicentre of the bloodbath.
A source at a Maiduguri hospital said, "the corpses are countless."
"Some of the patients who are injured from the fighting are lying on the floor of the hospital for lack of space", the source said.
President Yar'Adua had ordered the raid to crush the movement "once and for all."
Around 1,000 troop reinforcements had been sent into Maiduguri overnight Wednesday.
As security forces got the upper hand over the militants, some changed their appearance in a bid to escape, shaving their hair and beards and changing into jeans and tee-shirts,
said local resident Hamad Bulunkutu.
Police sources said at least 3,000 residents were displaced, although many later returned to their homes.
The Taliban emerged in 2002 in Maiduguri before setting up a camp on the border with Niger, from where they launched a series of attacks on the police.
Officials say they have been in existence since 1995 under different names.
The leadership has previously said it intended to lead an armed insurrection and rid the society of "immorality" and "infidelity".
Police sources said nationals from Niger and possibly Chad had fought alongside the Nigerian militants during the clashes this week.
The unrest is the deadliest in Nigeria since November last year when human rights groups say up to 700 were killed in the central city of Jos in direct clashes between Muslims and Christians.