Armed Islamic militants killed three policemen and took 12 others hostage when they ambushed a police patrol near Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria at the weekend, police said.
Borno State police commissioner Ade Ajakaiye said Islamic fundamentalist fighters modeling themselves on Afghanistan’s Taliban movement attacked a group of 60 policemen in the town of Kala-Balge, near the Lake Chad on Friday night.
The police had been sent there to pursue the militants following battles with them last month near the Cameroonian border, he added.
Ajakaiye said a police vehicle carrying munitions was stuck in deep mud and while the policemen were pushing it, they were fired upon by the militants. This caused the vehicle to explode, killing three policemen on the spot and injuring several others.
Twelve of the police contingent remained unaccounted for after "a fierce battle" and were believed to have been captured by the militants, he said.
Last month more than 35 people died in clashes between the Islamic militants and the security forces following simultaneous attacks on police stations in the towns of Gwoza and Bama in Borno State near the Cameroon border.
Most of the casualties in those engagements were members of the Al Sunna wal Jamma (Followers of the Prophet) armed fundamentalist movement, which is popularly known as the Taliban.
The group first took up arms in December 2003 when it overan two remote towns in Yobe State in northeastern Nigeria, near the border with Niger. It then remained dormant for nearly nine months before staging fresh attacks in neighbouring Borno state last month.
The sect was formed by university and polytechnic students in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, two or three years ago. It drew adherents from all over Nigeria, many of whom were the children of wealthy and influential people.
Ajakaiye said a joint team of police, army and air force units had been deployed to tackle the militants and had driven the group from the Limankara hills, where they were camped, into the swampy plain surrounding Lake Chad near the border with Cameroon and Chad.
Nigeria's volatile mix of religions and its history of repeated outbreaks of sectarian violence have made the authorities nervous about the emergence of Al Sunna wal Jamma.
The country's 126 million population is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south with a significant number of Animists in between.
The adoption of strict Islamic law of Sharia’h by 12 predominantly Muslim states in the north since 2000 has fuelled intermittent bouts of Christian-Muslim violence in which several thousand people have died.