Nigerian security forces shot dead two suspected members of an Islamist sect in the remote northeast on Wednesday, as authorities attempt to crack down on a group they say appears to have growing links with al Qaeda’s North Africa wing.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, has been blamed for near daily shootings and bombings in the northeast, a poor region bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
The sect claimed responsibility for Nigeria’s first known successful suicide bombing in August, in which a car full of explosives rammed into the side of U.N. headquarters in the capital Abuja, killing 23 people, Reuters reports.
Several arrests have been made and some suspects are facing trial, while the mastermind of the U.N. attack has a $160,000 bounty on his head.
“Two gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram were shot dead in Mafa by a security patrol team when the gunmen opened fire on the team who had gone to answer a distress call from villagers,” said Simeon Midenda, Borno police commissioner.
“As soon as the gunmen spotted the security patrol vehicle they opened fire and in return the security men also opened fire.” He said security between Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, and the nearby village of Mafa had been increased.
Bombings in the north and the capital have rapidly overtaken attacks by militants thousands of miles away in the oil-rich Niger Delta as Nigeria’s biggest security threat.
A committee inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan submitted a report last week on causes of unrest in the northeast. Its recommendations included negotiating with Boko Haram but previous efforts have proved unsuccessful.