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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Arsonists suspected to be members of Islamist sect Boko Haram have burned down seven schools in northeastern Nigeria the past few days, authorities said on Thursday, a new twist in the group's increasingly violent insurgency.
Thousands of children have been left without schools in the middle of their term.
Boko Haram, an Islamist movement styled on the Taliban, is waging a low level insurgency against the government that is radiating out from its heartland in the remote northeastern city of Maiduguri right across the north.
Its name means "Western education is sinful", after the ant-Western teachings of its early spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009.
Musa Inuwa Kubo, the commissioner of education for Borno state, of which Maiduguri is the capital, said the schools were attacked over the past few days, two of them on Thursday.
Reuters visited the scene of one of the fires, where a building was reduced to a pile of still smouldering ash.
"The destruction of schools in Maiduguri is a great setback to the state," Inuwa told Reuters. "It is really a sad development because the schools belongs to the people and the poor are suffering as a result of the destruction."
The group has been involved in almost daily shootings and bombings in northern Nigeria, mostly targeting security forces.
A suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a church in the Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, killing two people and wounding 38 in an attack claimed by Boko Haram.