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Nigerian forces kill 13 Boko Haram militants after church attacks

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
January 2, 2013 -- Updated 0951 GMT (1751 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One soldier is killed in the gunfight
  • Boko Haram's name means "Western education is sacrilege"
  • A January 2012 militant attack killed 211
  • State Dept.: Group has ties to al Qaeda

(CNN) -- Islamist militants in Nigeria's restive north have taken the lives of 34 people since Christmas, including 27 Christians attending church services.

On Tuesday, the country's military took the fight to Boko Haram's stronghold, killing 13 suspected combatants.

Read more: Nigeria guilty of abuses in pursuing Boko Haram militants

Joint Task Force Operation Restore Order lost one soldier during the afternoon gunfight in the isolated town of Maiduguri in Nigeria's far northwest corner, said spokesman Sagir Musa.

The task force condemned alleged Boko Haram attacks going back to July 2012 in a statement, calling them "incessant callous, brutal, barbaric and impious killings." These included attacks on mosques, churches and businesses.

Boko Haram blamed for attacks in Nigeria
Bombs target newspapers in Nigeria

Human Rights Watch said the militant group has killed more than 2,800 people in all.

On Christmas Eve, attackers raided two churches, killing 12 people and setting one of the churches alight. Six days later, suspected Boko Haram fighters killed at least 15 Christian worshipers, slitting some of their throats, according to Nigerian authorities.

Read more: 22 killed in three attacks in Nigeria

Boko Haram carried out its largest known massacre in January 2012 killing 211 through coordinated bombings and gun assaults in the northern city of Kano, a popular target. The group often attacks Nigerian police stations.

The name Boko Haram means "Western education is sacrilege."

In the past, they have attacked other Muslims they felt were on an immoral path but have increasingly killed Christians.

The U.S. State Department has accused Boko Haram of attacking mosques and churches to incite tensions between the two religious groups, hoping to drive a wedge between them.

It has condemned some of the group's leaders for alleged ties to al Qaeda.

Read more: Opinion: Nigeria is a sinking ship, but we must not desert it

CNN's Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report

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