By Joe Brock
ABUJA (Reuters) - At least seven people were killed in what Nigerian security forces said was a shootout with Islamists in the capital Abuja, but several witnesses at a hospital said was an attack on unarmed squatters.
The incident happened in a building near a high-end, walled-off residential compound for lawmakers in Abuja on Friday.
Nigeria's secret service said they were searching in an area behind Apo Legislative Quarters for weapons, after a tip-off from arrested Boko Haram members, when they came under fire and returned it. They mentioned only injuries, no deaths.
If it was Boko Haram, which wants to impose sharia law in northern Nigeria, it would be the first clash involving Islamists in the capital this year.
The doctor who gave the death toll, and who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak, was in a morgue near the compound, where a Reuters reporter saw a police truck dump three bodies then drive off, leaving a trail of blood. 䄀 An ambulance deposited another body, with bandages wrapped around his bloodied torso.
Six witnesses, including two people injured by bullets, told Reuters the building was a house owned by a military man but occupied by about 100 squatters who were refusing to leave. Security forces raided it, opening fire on them, they said.
Boko Haram has been responsible for hundreds of killings this year, although Nigerian forces are also often accused of executing suspects then labeling them Boko Haram.
"Some persons were injured and 12 others have been arrested in connection with the incident," said a statement from the State Security Services (SSS).
"No sooner had the team commenced digging for the arms, than they came under heavy gunfire attack by other Boko Haram elements," the statement from the secret service said.
Apo is a large, high-end development originally designed for legislators while they are in office but now occupied by a mixture of lawmakers, other politicians and retired officials.
Boko Haram and a patchwork of smaller Islamist groups are seen as the gravest security threat to Africa's top oil producer. Although Boko Haram's activities are mostly located hundreds of miles away from its southern oil fields, its small presence in the political capital worries officials.
The last known Islamist attack in the capital was in November last year, when gunmen stormed a special anti-robbery police barracks and freed 30 prisoners, killing two policemen. That attack was claimed by Ansaru, a Boko Haram offshoot.
Its most high-profile Abuja attack was in August 2011, when a suicide car bomb tore through the U.N. building, killing 24 people and gaining Boko Haram international notoriety.
The bulk of Islamist attacks occur in the northeast, where Boko Haram staged its first major uprising in 2009.
(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Louise Ireland)