MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Seven people were killed during an insurgent attack on government soldiers in northeast Nigeria, where security forces are fighting Islamist militants, the army said on Friday.
At least 44 people have been killed in this restive region of Africa's top oil producer over the last two weeks in clashes between fighters suspected of belonging to Islamist sect Boko Haram and security forces.
"Gunmen attacked 21 brigade troops location at Marte. In the process, one soldier, one policeman and five gunmen lost their lives during an exchange of fire" on Wednesday, military spokesman Sagir Musa told Reuters.
Marte is close to Nigeria's porous borders with Cameroon and Niger and is about 100 km (62 miles) from Maiduguri, Boko Haram's headquarters and largest town in the northeast.
Musa said two AK47 rifles, one locally made shotgun, ammunition and machetes were recovered from the attackers.
The sect, which is loosely based on the Afghan Taliban, killed hundreds last year in a campaign to impose sharia, or Islamic law. Nigeria's more than 160 million people are split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.
About 3,000 people have been killed in violence linked to Boko Haram in the last three years, human rights groups say.
Boko Haram's violence remains focused mostly on security forces in the northeast, although its attacks have spread across the north and to the capital Abuja. It is the biggest threat to stability in Africa's top oil exporter.
President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to stop the rebellion despite waves of military offensives in the northeast and other parts of northern and central Nigeria where Boko Haram has a strong presence.
Jonathan said this week that most suspects behind major bombings in Nigeria had been arrested and attacks by what he called terrorists would be over soon.
Security experts believe Boko Haram is not the only threat.
An emerging group called Ansaru, known to have had ties with Boko Haram, claimed an attack on a major police barracks in the capital Abuja in November, where it said hundreds of prisoners had been released.
The group, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by Britain, has also said it was behind the kidnapping of a French national last week.
(Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Tim Cocks and Jon Boyle)