UPDATE 1-Nigeria's Boko Haram kill 51 in northeast attack - witnesses

Wed Feb 12, 2014 11:49am EST

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(Adds comment from governor)

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria Feb 12 (Reuters) - Gunmen from Islamist sect Boko Haram killed 51 people in an attack on a town in northeast Nigeria, witnesses said on Wednesday, in a region where President Goodluck Jonathan's troops are struggling to contain its insurgency.

Dozens of Boko Haram fighters speeding along in trucks painted in military colours and armed with automatic weapons and explosives stormed Konduga local government area in Borno state at around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, burning houses and shooting fleeing villagers, two witnesses said.

The insurgents also took 20 young girls from a local college hostage, a teacher said. The military confirmed the attack took place. It was still assessing the number of casualties.

"It is barbaric and unfortunate," Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima said when he visited the town on Wednesday.

"About 60 to 70 percent of the town has been burnt down but we are willing to rebuild it," he added, pledging to spend 100 million naira ($609,000) on emergency materials.

Boko Haram, which wants to impose sharia law on a country split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims, has killed thousands over the past four and a half years and is considered the biggest security risk in Africa's top oil exporter and second largest economy after South Africa. ($1 = 164.2 naira) (Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza and Lanre Ola; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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