KANO, Nigeria (AP) — After months of relative calm in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, shootouts early Saturday morning killed two soldiers and five suspected Islamic extremist insurgents, said military officials.
The fighting began after security forces stormed two homes at about 3 a.m. Residents were accused of plotting to carry out suicide attacks in Kano and the capital, Abuja, in the upcoming holiday season, said a spokesman for the security forces' combined Joint Task Force, Army Captain Ikedichi Iweha.
Security across the state of Kano has been tightened as rebels from the extremists group Boko Haram flee the three northeastern states currently under emergency rule. Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the past four years, as it fights to impose a harsh form of Islamic Shariah law.
"Security has been intensified on all the major roads," Iweha said. "There are massive (amounts of) security check points and surveillance."
In Saturday morning's raids, soldiers confiscated two AK-47 rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Iweha said in a statement issued via email, adding that it is "worrisome" that Boko Haram fighters are able to rent homes in the Kano suburbs "with ease." Security forces in Kano plan to destroy properties occupied by suspected Boko Haram members and arrest building owners as accomplices, even if they don't live in the house, the statement said.
"We will treat them as a terrorist because they are harboring them," Iweha later told The Associated Press.
Rights groups have repeatedly accused Nigerian security forces of abuses, including extra-judicial killings, destruction of property and long detentions in inhumane — sometimes deadly — conditions without charges or trials.
In May, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three states in the northeast. Thousands of troops were deployed and many of the Islamic rebels were chased out of the cities, but violence continues to escalate in the countryside. Jonathan called for a six-month extension to the state of emergency on Wednesday.
Kano is not under emergency rule but it has been the sight of many attacks attributed to Boko Haram, including coordinated bombings that killed nearly 200 people in 2012.