Troops shelled the compound of an Islamist sect blamed for days of violence in northern Nigeria then attacked its mosque, killing at least 100 militants in a fierce battle.
Sect leader Mohammed Yusuf escaped along with about 300 followers but his deputy was killed in Wednesday night's bombardment, according to Army commander Maj. Gen. Saleh Maina, The Associated Press reports.
At least 400 rebels, civilians and troops have died since the fighting began Sunday, triggered by the arrest of some members of the sect, known as Boko Haram.
The group retaliated by attacking police, military and government institutions in Bauchi state. The violence quickly spread to three other states, prompting a major response by troops.
The group wants to impose a strict form of Islamic law, or sharia, in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria. The sect also opposes Western education, reports CNN.
Colonel Ben Ahonotu, commander of the operation against the Taliban sect told AFP: "We have taken over their enclave, they are on the run and we are going after them."
Residents said they saw scores of militants pass through their area Wednesday heading out of the city, some of them disguising themselves by cutting off their hair and beards.
"We spotted dozens of members of Boko Haram fleeing. They stopped by briefly, shaved their hair and beard and discarded their trademark jellabiyah (white arabic caftans) for tee-shirts and jeans, and moved on," said Hamad Bulunkutu told AFP.