MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria's military said on Tuesday it had killed 40 Islamist militants while repelling a coordinated attack in three parts of northeastern Borno state, in the heartland of their insurgency.
Militant group Boko Haram has been fighting for more than four years to try to carve an Islamic state out of religiously-mixed Nigeria, and remains the top security threat to Africa's leading energy producer despite an all-out military offensive against it ordered by President Goodluck Jonathan in May.
"Terrorists ... of unknown strength attempted coordinated simultaneous attacks on Bama, Gwoza and Pulka" on Sunday night, said Captain Aliyu Danja, acting deputy army spokesman in the town of Maiduguri in Borno state.
He said the military had "successfully repelled all the attacks, killing 40 terrorists in the three locations while several others escaped with gunshot wounds".
Troops destroyed a pick-up truck loaded with bombs, Danja said in a written statement. In a separate incident, air strikes on a Boko Haram base in Kilani had "neutralized" some fighters there, he added.
The military often gives high casualty figures for militants and barely any for its own men. It is usually impossible to verify its claims independently.
It also invariably states that militants are killed in battle. Rights groups say many killings of Islamist militant suspects occur in custody.
Nearly 1,000 people, mostly suspected Islamist militants, died in Nigerian jails in the first half of this year, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
Boko Haram has stepped up the number and scale of attacks in the past two months, with hundreds of killings reported, many of them more targeted towards civilians than in the past.
(Reporting by Lanre Ola; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)