Three suspected members of Nigeria's Boko Haram were killed in the restive northern city of Maiduguri in a shootout with soldiers deployed to crush the Islamist sect, the army said Sunday.
Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, spokesman for the elite unit hunting down Boko Haram members, said militants attacked soldiers in a raid launched late Saturday, triggering a fierce gunbattle that lasted until early Sunday.
"The attack was repelled. Three Boko Haram members were killed," he said. "Our troops are in pursuit of the sect members. (The) situation is under control."
Musa said the attack in Maiduguri, a Boko Haram bastion, was launched just before a night-time curfew, adding that some passers-by caught in the prolonged crossfire had been "ordered to lie down by the roadside".
A resident caught in the shootout said about 20 gunmen attacked a police station with rifles and explosives.
"There was a shootout that continued throughout the night and around 200 residents were forced to lie on their faces along the streets to avoid being caught in crossfire," he said.
Another local man said he saw six dead bodies.
"The shooting continued throughout the night, we did not sleep. I and my family lay flat to avoid stray bullets," he said.
Boko Haram, blamed for a wave of attacks mainly in northern Nigeria, has targeted mostly the police and other symbols of authority in Africa's most populous nation, but also churches.
Although its specific aims remain largely unclear, violence by the sect since mid-2009 has claimed more than 1,000 lives, including more than 300 this year alone, according to rights groups and an AFP count.