, Nigeria, Jul 28 – Nigeria’s security forces were on maximum alert after two days of battles with radical Islamists which witnesses and authorities on Tuesday said had left more than 150 dead.
While authorities have so far confirmed only 55 deaths in the northern states of Bauchi and Yobe, journalists in the capital of a third state said they had seen scores of bodies dumped at the local police headquarters.
"Over 100 dead bodies have been deposited at the premises of the police headquarters and more are still being brought in," local radio journalist Ibrahim Bala told AFP from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
Bala said police were picking up the bodies of slain militants from the streets of the city where a curfew has been imposed.
"Fighting has stopped since last night but bodies are still being taken to the police headquarters in vans and trucks."
Another local journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she had counted more than 100 bodies at the police headquarters.
Witnesses meanwhile said around 200 militant Islamists kept an overnight vigil outside a mosque in the city as well as the home of their spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf.
In neighbouring Yobe state, police said they were combing forests near the town of Potiskum after the militants torched a police station and killed a policeman and a firefighter.
"Our men are now battling these extremists in nearby forests where they fled after we dealt with them here," a police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Truckloads of armed police were seen leaving a police base and heading towards the forests.
"We killed so many of them (yesterday)," said another Potiskum policeman.
The clashes which erupted on Sunday have so far been contained to four northern Muslim states in Africa’s most populous nation.
Churches and government buildings have been torched by groups of militants who have been dubbed Nigeria’s Taliban.
The unrest is the deadliest sectarian violence in Nigeria since November last year when human rights groups say up to 700 were killed in Muslim-Christian clashes in and around the central city of Jos.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, himself a Muslim from the north, ordered security forces on maximum alert in a decree issued late on Monday.
The president "ordered national security agencies to take all necessary action to contain and repel the sad and shocking attacks by extremists".
He also "directed that security be beefed up in all neighbouring states and security personnel placed on full alert to ensure that the attacks by misguided elements do not spread elsewhere," according to a statement.
Nigeria’s police chief Ogbonna Onovo told reporters on Monday that the weekend clashes in the states of Bauchi and Yobe had claimed the lives of 50 militants and five police. He acknowledged there was fighting in Maiduguri but gave no details of casualties there.
One Maiduguri resident, Shafiu Mohammed, said armed men burned a customs officer to death and slit the throat of an engineer. A policeman and a firefighter were also killed in exactly the same manner in Potiskum.
The fighting broke out in Bauchi state on Sunday when police hit back at militants after a foiled attack at a police station, but the unrest spread rapidly to neighbouring states.
The Nigerian extremists emerged in Maiduguri in 2002 before setting up a base — dubbed "Afghanistan" — in Kanamma village in Yobe, on the border with Niger two years later, from which they launched attacks on police outposts.
The north of Nigeria is mainly Muslim, although large Christian minorities have settled in the main towns, raising tensions between the two groups.
Since the return of a civilian regime to Nigeria’s central government in 1999, 12 northern states have introduced Islamic Sharia law. The latest attacks, which independent security analysts say were coordinated, affected a third of these states.
One of the Nigerian "Taliban" leaders, Aminu Tashen-Ilimi, told AFP in 2005 that the group intended to lead an armed insurrection and rid society of "immorality" and "infidelity".