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Gun battles follow death of Islamic sect leader

3 min

New clashes have been reported between security forces and followers of the radical Islamic sect after the death of the group’s leader in police custody. This is the sixth straight day of fighting in the region.


Reuters - Security forces in northern Nigeria fought gunbattles with followers of a radical Islamic sect for a sixth straight day on Friday after the group's leader was shot dead while in police custody.

Militant preacher Mohammed Yusuf, 39, whose Boko Haram sect wants a wider adoption of sharia (Islamic law) across Africa's most populous nation, was killed late on Thursday at the police headquarters in the northern city of Maiduguri.

Hundreds of people, mostly suspected members of the sect, have been killed in clashes with security forces in at least four states since Sunday.

A Reuters reporter counted 23 bloodied bodies with what appeared to be fresh bullet wounds outside the police command on Friday, among them a former state commissioner for religious affairs believed to be a Boko Haram supporter, Alhaji Buji Fai.

"Alhaji Buji Fai was killed along with other fleeing Boko Haram in an exchange of fire this morning along Benishek-Maiduguri road," said Isa Azare, spokesman for the police command in Maiduguri.

Yusuf was seen by local journalists including a Reuters reporter at the military barracks in Maiduguri after his capture. He had no visible injuries when he was taken from the barracks to police headquarters where he died.

Officials have said he was killed in a shoot-out while trying to escape.

Eric Guttschuss, Human Rights Watch researcher for Nigeria, described Yusuf's killing as "a shocking example of the brazen contempt by the Nigerian police for the rule of law".

Yusuf's supporters, armed with machetes, knives, home-made hunting rifles and petrol bombs, have rioted in several states across northern Nigeria in recent days, attacking churches, police stations, prisons and government buildings.

The violence broke out on Sunday when members of the group -- loosely modelled on the Taliban in Afghanistan and whose name means "Western education is sinful" -- were arrested in Bauchi state on suspicion of plotting to attack a police station.

Military patrols

President Umaru Yar'Adua has said the group was procuring arms and learning to make bombs in order to impose its ideology on Nigerians by force. He has ordered the security forces to do everything necessary to contain the sect.

Around a dozen soldiers, police officers and prison officials are among the hundreds killed in the unrest, while the remainder of the dead largely consist of suspected Boko Haram followers, according to police.

National defence spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yerima has promised a military "show of force" to reassure civilians that they would be protected.

Soldiers and police patrolled Maiduguri in armoured personnel carriers and trucks on Friday, continuing house-to-house searches for Yusuf's followers.

Yar'Adua, on an official visit to Brazil, spoke by telephone with northern governors on Thursday and urged traditional and
religious leaders to use Friday prayers to warn people about the dangers of such sects.

Boko Haram's views are not espoused by the majority of Nigeria's Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. The country's Muslim umbrella group, Jama'atu Nasril Islam, has already condemned the violence.

Yusuf's death deprives intelligence agencies of the opportunity to question him about possible links to other militant groups outside Nigeria.

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