Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 1 News List

As many as 600 people killed in Nigeria clashes

REUTERS , MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA

More than 600 people killed during a five-day uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria have been given mass burials in the city of Maiduguri, police and defense officials said yesterday.

Gunbattles raged for days last week as the security forces fought to put down the uprising by members of Boko Haram, a militant movement that wants Shariah to be imposed more widely in Africa’s most populous country.

Violence flared in several states but Maiduguri, where sect leader Mohammed Yusuf has his base, saw the heaviest fighting. Police spokesman Isa Azare said more than 600 people were killed, but other officials put the death toll higher.

“Over 700 dead bodies were given a mass burial in Maiduguri town alone. Most of the bodies were buried in Yusuf’s compound, which used to be their headquarters,” a senior defense official in the capital Abuja said.

State government and Health Ministry workers have been piling corpses, some swollen after lying in the streets for days, onto open trucks. The defense official said more bodies were still being recovered from outside the city.

The troubles began last Sunday in Bauchi State, some 400km southwest of Maiduguri, when members of the group — loosely modeled on the Taliban in Afghanistan — were arrested on suspicion of plotting to attack a police station.

Boko Haram followers, armed with machetes, knives, home-made hunting rifles and petrol bombs, then went on the rampage in several cities.

Maiduguri saw the heaviest fighting.

Yusuf, 39, was shot while in police detention in Maiduguri on Thursday and the authorities were hoping his killing would bring an end to the uprising.

Hundreds of people gathered on Friday to see Yusuf’s corpse, laid on the ground in front of Maiduguri police headquarters alongside the bodies of other presumed Boko Haram members.

Officials have said Yusuf died while trying to escape but human rights groups have condemned what they said looked like an execution-style killing.

Residents ventured back onto the streets on Saturday, banks reopened and soldiers began to withdraw their roadblocks, but the authorities said house-to-house searches for Yusuf’’s followers would continue.

Boko Haram’s views are not espoused by the majority of Nigeria’s Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Muslim umbrella group Jama’atu Nasril Islam has condemned the uprising and voiced support for the security forces.

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