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Advanced arms aid Nigerian radicals

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

LAGOS, Nigeria — At first, the Islamic extremists in Nigeria's dusty northeast rode on the backs of motorcycles, firing on government officials and other perceived enemies with worn Kalashnikov assault rifles hidden beneath their flowing robes. Now, they come prepared for war.

When Islamic fighters drove into a town in northeast Nigeria on Tuesday, they used anti-aircraft guns, mounted on the backs of trucks, to destroy nearly every landmark of the nation's federal government. Fighters also rode in on at least one bus, the military said, while in other assaults insurgents have fired rocket-propelled grenades.

The militarization of Islamic radicals in the north occurs after witnesses saw Nigerian fighters mingle with the extremists who took over northern Mali in the weeks after a coup there. It occurs as fighters seized troves of Nigerian military equipment and have received access to arms smuggled out of the lawlessness of Libya.

Those new arms, and the willingness of extremists to use them, highlight the increasing instability in Nigeria's north and ever-growing dangers facing the nation's weak central government.

The sophistication of the fighters, likely from the extremist network known as Boko Haram, was evident in their Tuesday assault on Bama, 40 miles southeast of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. At least 42 people were killed as the insurgents' heavy weapons helped them overrun the barracks of the Nigerian Army's 202nd Battalion, as well as a police station, a police barracks, a magistrate's court, local government offices and a federal prison.

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