Fighting between Islamic militants and security forces in northern Nigeria left at least 38 people dead as sect members armed with spears, knives, assault rifles and arrows ransacked a neighborhood and set homes ablaze, police officials said Tuesday.
Mohammed Barau, a police spokesman for Bauchi state, said members of the Kata Kalo sect began fighting among themselves and accusing each other of causing their leader to fall seriously ill. He corrected earlier official statements that the arrest of the sect leader prompted the clash.
The fighting spread into the streets of a poor neighborhood near the city of Bauchi and military forces attempted to stop the violence, Barau said. Officials said the militants were armed with spears and arrows.
The militants' fierce attack sent the military unit into a retreat, Barau said. At least one soldier and a state security officer died in the initial clash early Monday morning, officials said, as well as two bystanders.
Barau said military and police units returned to the area in force later, but "before police got there, they had already killed themselves." However, extrajudicial killings are common in Nigeria and an Amnesty International report released in November claims police kill hundreds each year.
Officials said they arrested 20 people after the fighting. Among those arrested, officials said they found two Kalashnikov assault rifles, bomb-making materials, 73 knives, gunpowder and ammunition.
Barau said the area was under control on Tuesday.
"The situation has normalized. Everyone has gone about his normal business," he said.
Nigeria, a country of about 150 million people, is almost split between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. Religious violence is sometimes sparked by local disputes and politics, rather than international influences.
In July, fighting in Bauchi sparked by another Islamic sect's attack on a police station began a wave of violence across northern Nigeria that left more than 700 dead.