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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Nigerian troops shelled the compound of an Islamist sect before attacking the mosque under gunfire from militants holed up inside, triggering a raging battle that left scores dead.

Army commander Maj. Gen. Saleh Maina said the deputy leader of theTaliban-style sect was killed in Wednesday night's bombardment, but leader Mohammed Yusuf escaped along with about 300 followers.

An AP reporter who watched soldiers shoot their way into the mosque and then barrage those inside with gunfire afterward counted about 50 bodies inside the building and another 50 in the courtyard.

Another five corpses were inside a sprawling house near the mosque, including that of the Boko Haram sect's vice chairman, Bukar Shekau. Maina pointed his body out lying face down, shirtless, with a gaping bullet wound to the buttocks.

Since Sunday the militants have attacked police stations, churches, prisons and government buildings as they seek to impose Islamic Sharia law throughout this multi-religious country. The attacks have quickly spread to three other states in mainly Muslim northern Nigerian.

It is unclear how many scores of people have been killed, wounded and arrested in the violence.

The epicenter has been the sect's headquarters in Maiduguri city, capital of Borno state, which was bombarded Wednesday.

Troops intensified their search for Yusuf and his followers on Thursday, going house to house on the outskirts of Maiduguri.

Borno Gov. Ali Modu Sheriff said Yusuf was reportedly seen Wednesday night in a village about 45 kilometers (28 miles) northeast of Maiduguri.