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Army in final battle with homegrown ‘Taliban’

Video by Nicolas GERMAIN

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-07-29

Nigerian forces are battling the remnants of an Islamic fundamentalist sect that launched a series of attacks beginning on Sunday that have so far left at least 150 people dead across four of the country's Muslim-dominated northern states.

Nigerian troops overnight battled the remaining fighters from a militant Islamic sect that launched a spate of violence since Sunday that has left at least 150 people dead in the mainly Muslim north of the country.

At least 43 people were killed in fresh clashes in the northern state of Yobe on Wednesday, police sources told AFP.

President Umaru Yar'Adua said a military operation now underway would put a stop to the militants "once and for all". "They will be dealt with squarely and forthwith," he added.  


Army soldiers launched the offensive late Tuesday on the compound of sect leader Mohammed Yusuf and a nearby mosque used by his followers in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri.  


Sporadic firing continues in the area surrounding Yusuf’s sprawling settlement, says Lanni Smith, a Radio France Internationale correspondent reporting from Lagos for FRANCE 24.


“Across the north there is a lockdown,” she says, adding that the militants appear to be “more armed than originally expected”.  


A new Afghanistan?


The extremists, known as Boko Haram, emerged in 2004 centered around Maiduguri, pledging their support for a new Nigerian regime modelled on the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan and vowing to rid society of what they term "immorality" and "infidelity". A camp they dubbed “Afghanistan” was later set up in Kanamma village in Yobe state. Boko Haram wants to implement Islamic sharia law across Nigeria's northern territories.


“A lot of their recruits are people from the universities who dropped out,” Smith says. In joining the militants, she says these former students have embraced the fundamentalists’ view “that all sorts of scientific views of the world are not accepted”.  



Ultimately, their objective is “the overthrow of what they see as the Western-influenced modern state,” says Smith.

Douglas Yates, a political science professor at the American University in Paris, tells FRANCE 24 that the emergence of this group could be a result of the growing pains of nation-building, in particular Nigeria’s foundering attempts at development. Nigeria is now seeing a “modernisation of the state, secular education [which pose] a threat to tradition – but no growth,” he said.


The latest fighting began on Sunday in Bauchi state, when police struck back at militants after an attack on a police station, before the violence spilled into neighbouring Yobe. The battles then spread to Maiduguri city, which remains the stronghold of the fundamentalist group.


Scores of people in the affected areas have been displaced by the fighting, and food is running out as markets and shops have been closed since Monday. Many residents are choosing not to venture from their homes and run the risk of being caught in the crossfire.


In all, four of Nigeria’s northern states Bauchi, Yobe, Kano and Borno – have been affected by the outbreak of violence. Since the return of a civilian government to Nigeria in 1999, 12 of the majority Muslim northern states have adopted sharia law.   


The latest unrest is the deadliest sectarian violence in Nigeria since November 2008, when human rights groups say as many as 700 were killed in the central city of Jos in several days of clashes between Muslims and Christians. While Muslims predominate across Nigeria's north, Christians dominate in the south of the country.


Date created : 2009-07-29