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Suspected Islamists kill 85 in northeast Nigeria

Two boys stand near the charred chassis of a vehicle after a bomb attack near a busy market area in Ajilari-Gomari near the city's airport,
Two boys stand near the charred chassis of a vehicle after a bomb attack near a busy market area in Ajilari-Gomari near the city's airport,

By Lanre Ola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Suspected Islamist militants have killed at least 85 people in northeastern Nigeria, witnesses and officials said on Sunday, in a further setback to President Goodluck Jonathan's military campaign.

Twin bomb blasts in the city of Maiduguri killed at least 46 people on Saturday evening while, around 50 km (30 miles) away, dozens of gunmen were razing a farming village, shooting dead another 39.

The attacks will heap pressure on Jonathan, whose intensified military push to end the Islamist sect Boko Haram's four-and-a-half-year-old insurgency has been running for almost a year.

While the bloodshed has not diminished, the army had at least had some success in confining it to remote rural areas in recent months, so that the attack on a densely populated market area in Maiduguri will be seen as a setback.

Jonathan is expected to run for re-election next year in what is expected to be a close contest.

Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in its fight for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria and become the biggest threat to security in Africa's top oil producer, is increasingly targeting the civilian population.

The attack on the village of Mainok on Saturday evening is typical of recent raids by Boko Haram as its fighters continue to target anyone they view as supporting the government's effort to end its insurgency.

"They were shooting sporadically and throwing explosives on buildings. I counted 39 bodies this morning," Mainok resident Mansur Buba told reporters in Maiduguri. "I fled the place because nobody is safe."

Mustapha Musa, another resident, said the village was in ruins with every house burned to the ground.

An emergency relief official confirmed the death toll as 39 but asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak officially.

There was global outrage last week when dozens of school children were shot or burned to death in a rural region near the northeastern city of Damaturu.

Insurgents killed more than 300 people last month, mostly civilians. Among the attacks were two in which more than 100 people were killed. In one, militants razed a village and shot panicked residents as they tried to flee.

Western governments are concerned about Nigerian groups such as Boko Haram linking up with al Qaeda-linked cells in other countries in the Sahel region, such as Mali, where France sent troops a year ago to oust Islamist militants who had seized control.

(Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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