The fighting in Baga in the northern region of Nigeria of the between Nigeria’s military and Islamic extremists which lasted for several hours on Friday killed at least 185 people.

The violence in a fishing community began after soldiers surrounded a mosque they believed housed members of the radical Islamic extremist network as the extremists had earlier  killed a military officer. The insurgents reacted by firing rocket-propelled grenades and soldiers sprayed machine-gun fire into neighbourhoods filled with civilians. By yesterday, when government officials finally felt safe enough to see the destruction, homes, businesses and vehicles were burned throughout the area.

The assault marks a significant escalation in the long-running insurgency Nigeria faces in its predominantly Muslim north, with Boko Haram extremists mounting a co-ordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry. The killings mark one of the deadliest incidents to involve Boko Haram.

The authorities had found and buried at least 185 bodies as of yesterday afternoon, said Lawan Kole, a local government official in Baga. Officials could not offer a breakdown of civilian casualties against those of soldiers and extremist fighters. Many of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition in fires that destroyed whole sections of the town, residents said. Those killed were buried as soon as possible, following local Muslim tradition.

Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye said Boko Haram extremists used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the assault. He said extremists used civilians as human shields during the fighting.