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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) - Witnesses report that militants from the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram are taking over villages in northeastern Nigeria, killing and terrorizing civilians and political leaders.

It represents a comeback for the Islamic fighters, after a year-long military offensive aimed at crushing them.

Nigeria's military has insisted that a big influx of troops, and a state of emergency in three states, has the extremists on the run.

But while Boko Haram has in large part been pushed out of cities in the Northeast, the group has been seizing smaller villages, staking their claim by hoisting their black flags with white Arabic lettering. And they're putting large areas of Nigeria off-limits for the country's military.

A local government official says the militants hoisted their flags several weeks ago in a village on the border with Cameroon, without interference from the security forces.

Civilians who've been frustrated by the military's apparent inability to fight Boko Haram have formed vigilante groups. They detain Boko Haram suspects and hand them over to authorities. Amnesty International found that hundreds of detainees have died in military custody.

Boko Haram grabbed the world's attention in April with the kidnapping of more than 300 girls from a school.

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