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Thousands flee Nigerian city after Islamist attacks

By AFP

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AFP) - Thousands of residents have fled the Nigerian city of Maiduguri over the past two days fearing more Islamist attacks and after soldiers were accused of shooting civilians, residents said on Tuesday.

Residents piled into the backs of trucks and packed up their cars to leave the northeastern city, which has seen the brunt of the violence blamed on the Islamist sect known as Boko Haram.

The government has deployed hundreds of troops to Maiduguri in a bid to stop the sect, and last weekend a shootout between soldiers and suspected sect members left at least 11 dead.

Military officials say those killed were sect members, but residents say soldiers shot civilians and burnt their houses, accusing them of complicity in the Islamist attacks.

The military says explosives set off by the Islamists led to the burning of the buildings.

One resident, Mainasara Mukhtar, said he was leaving for fear of similar violence in his neighbourhood.

"Flyers were anonymously distributed in the neighbourhood of impending attacks and residents moved out to avoid being killed by soldiers as it happened in Kalari (neighbourhood)," he said.

"Most of us are leaving town because we have nowhere else to move in the city."

Violence blamed on the sect has intensified in recent weeks, including frequent bomb blasts.

The commander of the military task force in the area defended his troops, saying they would not target innocent people.

"My men are not responsible for the exodus because even before the deployment of soldiers people have been leaving the city," said Brigadier-General Jack Okechukwu Nwaogbo.

"Soldiers are not animals who will be killing people indiscriminately. Anybody shot or killed by soldiers must have attacked them or is armed, which means he is part of the group we are out to tackle."

Maiduguri university on Monday also ordered the indefinite closure of the school due to security concerns. The bulk of the university's 35,000 students are drawn from other areas of the country.

© 2011 AFP