REPORTING FROM NAIROBI, KENYA -- Their inspiration: the Taliban.
Their local twist: They revile secular education.
Their aim: overthrow the Nigerian government and set up an Islamic state in a nation divided between Christians, who mainly live in the south, and the predominantly Muslim north.
They are Boko Haram, an Islamic rebel group in northern Nigeria that launched a series of attacks Friday in the town of Damaturu, setting off bombs and battling police in running gunfights.
At least 67 people were killed in the fighting, Reuters reported, citing witnesses who saw dozens of bodies piled in the Damaturu morgue. Boko Haram, which has been fighting the government for several years, claimed responsibility for the attacks and warned that more were coming.
There is fear that Boko Haram, which has so far run a localized northern Nigeria rebellion, may connect with Al Qaeda or launch international attacks. Boko Haram has threatened to mount attacks in the West, but so far all but one of its targets have been local.
In August, the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, that killed 24 people at the United Nations offices, its only international target.
Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command in Germany, said recently he feared that Boko Haram, which admires Al Qaeda but doesn't claim to be an affiliate, could link up with that terrorist network and its affiliates in Africa.
The group is opposed to Western-style secular education and urges followers to turn their backs on school and university or to leave their jobs, sell their possessions, join the rebellion and prevent their wives from going out unaccompanied.
The Damaturu attacks began Friday with several evening bomb blasts. Gunmen then rampaged through the town attacking police stations and churches and fighting with police.
Several churches were burned to the ground.
A Boko Haram spokesman claimed responsibility in a call to a Nigerian newspaper.
"We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop their excesses on our members and vulnerable civilians," he said.
In 2009, Boko Haram attacked police stations in the north, setting off a wave of fighting that left hundreds dead in Maiduguri. The group's leader, Mohammed Yufuf, was captured and executed in police custody. Videos later released appeared to show police executing suspects on the street.
-- Robyn Dixon