September 6, 2013 / 2:20 PM / 6 years ago

Nigerian militant attacks kill 20 in northeast: witnesses

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Suspected Islamist militants armed with guns and machetes killed at least 20 people in villages in Nigeria’s turbulent northeast, witnesses said on Friday.

The attacks on Wednesday and Thursday took place close to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state where Islamist sect Boko Haram launched an uprising in 2009.

Boko Haram, which wants to impose sharia law in northern Nigeria, and other splinter Islamist groups, are the biggest threat to stability in Africa’s top oil exporter.

“Fifteen people were killed in Gajiram on Wednesday night when the Boko Haram sect members attacked the town,” witness Modu Ngubdo told Reuters in Maiduguri, where he fled after the attack. Gajiram is around 40 miles from Maiduguri.

A further five people were killed by gunmen in the early hours of Thursday in the village of Bulabilin Ngaura, around 20 miles from the state capital, resident Aisami Babagana told Reuters.

The military did not respond to a request for comment. Information can take a long time to emerge from Borno where the army has cut the telephone network in an effort to disrupt communication between Boko Haram cells.

More than 160 people were killed in violence linked to Boko Haram last month - one of the bloodiest periods since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency and a military crackdown in three northeastern states in mid-May.

The military said last month Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau may have died in late July of wounds inflicted during a gun battle, though the report could not be verified independently.

Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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