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Militants attack Nigerian prison

Gunmen have launched a massive attack against a northern Nigerian prison holding suspected members of a radical Muslim sect, authorities said, apparently leaving some people dead and allowing some inmates to escape.

Bauchi state government spokesman Sanusi Mohammed said police brought the fighting to an end after gunfire echoed through the surrounding hills and pasturelands for two hours.

Mr Mohammed said the gunmen, thought to be members of the Boko Haram sect, attacked the prison at sunset in hopes of freeing other sect members awaiting trial.

"The government has brought the situation under control and it is appealing to the public to remain calm," Mr Mohammed said in a statement.

A witness who hid in a nearby mosque said part of the prison caught fire and a wall fell down, allowing prisoners to escape.

The witness also said he saw what appeared to be dead bodies in the area, but could not give a count of the casualties.

Adamu Abubakar, a Red Cross official, said the heavy gunfire could be heard throughout the city of Bauchi, the state's capital.

"Definitely now, I'm not going anywhere," Mr Abubakar said. "The situation is not safe."

Boko Haram - which means "Western education is sacrilege" in Hausa - has campaigned for the implementation of strict Shariah law.

Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim-held north. A dozen states across Nigeria's north already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

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