x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Hundreds die in fighting against Nigeria's 'Taliban'

An operation by security forces across northern Nigeria that resulted in the deaths of several hundred militants along with civilians and troops has prompted strong criticisms from human rights organisations. The Boko Haram sect aimed to overthrow the Nigerian state, impose strict Shariah law and forbidden extreme interpretation of Islamic law and abolish what they termed 'Western-style education'.

Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, along with several hundred militants, have been killed during operations by security forces across northern Nigeria. Attacks on police and government targets prompted a violent crackdown that began a week ago and resulted in 700 deaths, a military commander told CNN. "Nigerian security forces on Thursday confirmed the death of the leader of a fundamentalist Islamic sect in the city of Maiduguri, apparently ending a fierce five-day campaign against the group that may have left hundreds dead across northern Nigeria," The New York Times reported. "A military spokesman would not say exactly how the leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed, though news agencies widely reported that he was killed after being captured. Human Rights Watch quickly issued a statement saying that 'the killing in police custody of criminal suspects has become an extremely worrying pattern in Nigeria.' "The group's compound - a mosque, a clinic and living quarters - was flattened after an all-out military assault on Wednesday that left bodies scattered about the area, reports and photographs from the scene suggested. " 'Everything has been destroyed,' said Isa Umar Gusau, a reporter for The Daily Trust, a Nigerian newspaper, in a phone interview on Thursday from Maiduguri." The BBC reported: "Yusuf's body was shown to journalists on Thursday just hours after police said they had captured him. "Human rights campaigners alleged he had been executed, but police said on Friday that he died in a shoot-out following days of bloody fighting. "Information Minister Dora Akunyili told the BBC that the government 'does not condone extra-judicial killings'." The Guardian reported: "Emmanuel Ojukwu, a national police spokesman, said: 'This group operates under a charismatic leader. They will no more have any inspiration. The leader who they thought was invincible and immortal has now been proved otherwise.' "But the triumphalism was punctured by conflicting accounts of how Yusuf died. Colonel Ben Ahanotu, commander of the military operation against Boko Haram, who claims he personally captured Yusuf, said that he had been unarmed and gave himself up willingly. " 'All I know is that in the attack, I was able to pick him up from his hideout and hand him over to police,' he told the BBC. 'I asked him why he did what he has done and his response was that he would explain to me later. But he was OK. As I got him alive, I handed him over to the authorities.' "The regional police assistant inspector-general, Moses Anegbode, had earlier told Nigerian television that Yusuf had been 'killed by security forces in a shoot-out while trying to escape'. "A policeman reportedly said that Yusuf 'pleaded for mercy and forgiveness before he was shot'. "Pressure groups demanded an investigation. Eric Guttschuss, of Human Rights Watch, said: 'The extrajudicial killing of Mr Yusuf in police custody is a shocking example of the brazen contempt by the Nigerian police for the rule of law.' " In a column for The Guardian in Lagos, Reuben Abati, wrote: "The Nigeria police's customary abuse of power has been well-documented for example in all the Annual Reports on Human Rights in Nigeria by the Civil Liberties Organisation between 1988 and 1995, in Ayo Ajomo and Isabella Okagbue eds, Human Rights and the Administration of Criminal Justice (1991) and in Human Rights Watch and Commitee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) Reports on Nigeria. This includes the summary execution of suspects, revenge killings by the police, the torture of suspects, excessive use of lethal force at checkpoints. It is not as if the police are not aware of the position of the law, but they consider due process a 'waste of time'. For many police officers, a distinction between innocence and suspicion is a mere waste of time. Police stations also function as butchers' dens where human beings are executed at night and their body parts sold to ritualists or dumped in an unmarked grave. Nigerian policemen consider this to be a faster way of dealing with crime than going through the seemingly laborious process of gathering evidence and presenting same before a court of law. This is a sign of Nigeria's underdevelopment, the crisis in its justice administration system and the politics of power within its borders." BBC News reported: "Since the group emerged in 2004 they have become known as 'Taliban', although they appear to have no links to the Taliban in Afghanistan. "Some analysts believe they took inspiration from the radical Afghans, others say the name is more a term of ridicule used by people in Maiduguri, the city where they were founded. "The group is also referred to as Boko Haram, which means 'Western education is a sin' - one of their core beliefs. "Isa Sanusi, from the BBC's Hausa service, says the group has no specific name for itself, just many names attributed to it by local people. "If their name is uncertain, however, their mission appears clear enough: to overthrow the Nigerian state, impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and abolish what they term 'Western-style education'." Andrew Walker wrote: "In 1980 another Islamic sect, led by Marwa Maitasine, was wiped out by the government. Some 1,000 people were killed, including women and children. "The sect, which preached that the Prophet Muhammad was not the genuine messenger of Allah - blasphemy under Islam - was allowed to grow because it was useful to local politicians, analysts say. "Now, Borno governor Ali Modu Sherrif has said anyone who shelters fleeing Boko Haram sect members will be 'dealt with'. "But in Abuja, questions will be asked about why his administration did not take a firmer line Boko Haram sooner. "There are many eccentric sects, bandit troupes and itinerant brigands in northern Nigeria, all useful to one godfather or another. "It is virtually certain that what happened in Maiduguri this week will happen again." Simon Tisdall said: "the radicalisation of a minority of Nigeria's 70 million Muslims, roughly half the population, can be traced back to the decision in 2000, by 12 of the 36 states, to more strictly enforce sharia law. The effects are still being felt. "The move alienated Christian minorities living in the mostly Muslim north and helped spark sectarian clashes that killed thousands of people and still continue. According to Human Rights Watch, Muslim-Christian mob violence in central Plateau state last November led to hundreds of deaths and alleged atrocities by security forces. "In 2003, Osama bin Laden singled out Nigeria as an area of special interest for al Qa'eda's destabilisation agenda and the following year the so-called Nigerian Taliban first emerged, although it had no known direct links to the Afghan and Pakistani varieties."

pwoodward@thenational.ae