Its ambitions have apparently expanded to the destruction of the Nigerian government.

On Friday, at least six soldiers, five police officers and 53 Boko Haram fighters were killed after the militants launched an attack in the town of Bama, the Nigerian Defense Ministry said.

Local residents said half the town was burnt, including the police station.

Many of Boko Haram's attacks take place in the northern part of the country, despite the fact that Nigeria's northern half is mainly Muslim and the south is mainly Christian.

But the radical militant group does not consider all Muslims as supporters and allies. Boko Haram has allegedly killed Muslim clerics who have dared to criticize the group.

And there have been suggestions that it attacks certain mosques because members have spoken out against it and helped federal officials with their crackdown. Analysts say attacks are aimed at instilling fear in the local population to prevent cooperation with the government.

Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic young cleric, founded Boko Haram 12 years ago as part of his push for a pure Islamic state in Nigeria. He was killed in 2009, but his group lived on.

Boko Haram became more violent after his death as his supporters vowed to strike back. Human Rights Watch estimates that in the past five years, more than 3,000 people have been killed in the violence.