ABUJA Feb 21 (Reuters) - Nigeria charged seven men with terrorist acts on Thursday, accusing them of killing four people in raids on banks and a police station as part of an Islamist insurgency in the north of the country, police said.
Islamist group Boko Haram has killed hundreds in Nigeria's mostly Muslim north in the last three years in its effort to carve out an Islamic state in the religiously mixed country of 160 million. The group and its offshoots are the biggest threat to the stability of Africa's biggest oil producer.
Nigeria's national assembly this week prescribed the death penalty for anyone found guilty on terrorism charges.
Boko Haram's main target is the security forces but it also robs banks to fund its operations. The insurgency has led to a general increase in lawlessness and gangs often carry out crimes knowing Boko Haram will take the blame.
There are also signs the groups are linking up with extremists outside the country, including al Qaeda's African wing.
The accused stole 17.8 million naira ($113,100) from a Union Bank branch and a combined 36.4 million naira from branches of Intercontinental Bank and GT Bank in the town of Azare in Bauchi state, police said.
Four people, including three police officers, were killed in the raids on July 8, 2011, state prosecutors told the Federal High Court. The suspects didn't enter a plea because they had no legal representation. The case was adjourned until April 10.
Southern Christian President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticised for not stemming the flow of violence in the north but he has repeatedly said the military is winning the battle. ($1 = 157.33 Nigerian nairas) (Reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)