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Security heightened as Islamist rebels expand attacks

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-07-28

Security has been stepped up across northeastern Nigeria after two days of fighting between police and Islamist extremists, with as many as 150 people feared dead. The militants want to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria.

Violence between Nigerian security forces and Islamist militants has forced thousands of civilians to take shelter in army barracks in the northern city of Maiduguri Tuesday. Nigerian police have confirmed that 103 people have been killed in the city in just a matter of days, including 90 Islamist militants from the Boko Haram group as well as eight police officers. 


There have been further reports of sporadic violence in Maiduguri Tuesday, as the ethnic tensions gripping the city continue to spiral out of control. An AFP journalist has reported hearing gunshots and seeing a column of smoke rising over the besieged city.


Maiduguri, which is located in the northern Borno province, has seen the worst violence to date, with militants attacking and setting fire to a local police station and a prison, according to news reports.


The group Boko Haram, literally meaning ‘education is prohibited’, opposes Western education and demands the strict adoption of sharia law. Locally known as “the Taliban,” the group is believed to be headed by Mohammed Yusuf, who is a preacher at a Maidugur mosque.


The Islamist rebels have targeted security forces and government agencies with gun fire and arson attacks in the four northern Nigerian states of Borno, Bauchi, Yobe and Kano.

Security forces and churches targeted



Violence broke out in the region on Sunday following the arrest of some Boko Haram members, according to news reports.



Speaking to FRANCE 24 Tuesday, Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalist Aminu Abubakar in Yobe said the Islamist insurgents were specifically targeting police and security forces.

“They believe that all existing security agencies should be dislodged before the government can be defeated,” said Abubakar. “Although they believe any Muslim who defends the government is also a heretic and should be killed. Muslims and Christians alike are quite apprehensive of this group.”

Christian churches in the state of Borno have also been set ablaze, according to reports.

Abdulmuni Ibrahim Mohammed, senior member of Boko Haram, threatened further attacks after his arrest in Kano state, Reuters news agency reported.

“Even if I am arrested, there are more out there to do the job,” the leader was quoted as saying.

While calm had returned to most of the region, an atmosphere of unease still reigned in cities such as Potiskum, which was rocked by violence three days ago.

“The militants have now gathered in their mosque [in Maiguri] and are guarding the house of their leader Mohammed Yusuf against any possible attacks from troops,” reported Abubakar.

According to Ali Kabre, another RFI journalist in Lagos, the supporters of Mohammed Yusuf are seeking arms and munitions to wage jihad in their country, “against the government institutions who model themselves after the Western world.”

These latest, religious-motivated clashes in the northern states are not connected to unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta in the country’s south.

Religious unrest

Since 1999 and the return of a civilian regime to Nigeria’s central government, 12 northern states have introduced Islamic sharia law.

The north of Nigeria is mainly Muslim, although large Christian minorities have settled in the main towns, and interreligious conflict flared only recently in the region in February.

According to Abubakar, the insurgents behind the latest violence take their inspiration from Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

“Although there is no known link, they want to establish an Islamic state in the fashion of the Taliban,” he said.

According to Elizabeth Donnelly, Africa Programme Manager at Chatham House, it is unclear how long Boko Haram has been operating and the clashes are largely a way of testing the group’s own strength.

“Although they have a clear, vocal leadership, it is not clear they have a solid membership,” said Donnelly. “The attacks are more likely the spontaneous reactions of impoverished youth.”

More than 700 people died in November in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, when a political feud over a local election degenerated into a bloody confrontation between Muslims and Christians.

More than 200 ethnic groups generally live peacefully side by side in Nigeria, but bouts of religious unrest have been recurrent in the country’s recent history.

Date created : 2009-07-28