Five days of fighting between government forces and a radical Islamist sect left dirt roads soaked with blood, buildings scorched and dozens dead, including the group's leader, but revenge attacks were feared even as the national police claimed victory.
Mohammed Yusuf, head of the Boko Haram sect, was killed on
Thursday after he was found hiding in a goat pen at the home of his
in-laws, but the circumstances grew murkier on Friday.
Police said Yusuf was killed in a gunfight but a Nigerian army
officer disputed that.
"He was arrested alive," Army Col. Ben Ahonatu told The
Associated Press on Friday. "There was no shootout."
Police, who invited local journalists to view Yusuf's battered
corpse Thursday evening, insisted he was fatally wounded in combat.
"Mohammed Yusuf ... died in a gunbattle between armed sect
members and a joint military-police force," said Christopher Dega,
police commissioner of Borno state, of which Maiduguri is the
A video obtained by AP Television News from police shows what
authorities say is Yusuf's body. The corpse is in the middle of a
street and the victim's hands are cuffed. The injuries were severe,
with gaping wounds to sections of his arms and abdomen.
Bursts of gunfire can be heard in the background.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for
investigations into Yusuf's death and other killings during the
upheaval in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria.
Emmanuel Ojukwu, spokesman of the national police, said Yusuf's
death spelled the end of his group which espouses anti-Western
views and had been gathering disciples for years.
"This group operates under a charismatic leader. They will no
more have any inspiration," Ojukwu told AP. "The leader who they
thought was invincible and immortal has now been proved
But Charles Dokubo, analyst with the Nigerian Institute of
International Affairs, said he expects more trouble.
"The rebellion is more than an individual," Dokubo said. "In
as much as he was the leader, it does not mean this is over."
The 39-year-old Yusuf had managed to escape death on Wednesday
along with some 300 followers as troops shelled his compound in the
city of Maiduguri, killing about 100 people, including Yusuf's
Yusuf's death could provoke more violence, though the Boko Haram
sect, sometimes called the Nigerian Taliban, is now likely in
Security forces thought they had already written the epitaph for
the sect, back in December 2007 when Nigeria's military apparently
crushed the group after it attacked police outposts in two northern
Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the
Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies,
said "poverty, unemployment and a state authority ... from which
people feel alienated" have given rise to radical groups in
Nigeria, a major oil producer and Africa's most populous nation.
"These new religious groups are fed up with a corrupt
government, so people are turning to religion and extremism as an
alternative to a failed state," Cooke said. "You could see a
resurgence of this or another similar group."
Most Boko Haram members are young, poor and unemployed, although
a few came from highly educated and elite families. They share
anger that the introduction of moderate Shariah law in 12 northern
states 10 years ago has not stemmed corruption that keeps most
Nigerians impoverished while only a few prosper from the country's
Yusuf, a Western-educated member of the country's elite,
encouraged his followers to rid themselves of all material wealth,
but was chauffeured in a Mercedes all-terrain vehicle and amassed
dozens of vehicles at his compound. A university graduate, he
discounted Darwin's theory of evolution, claimed the world cannot
be round because the Quran does not say that and credited Allah
with creating rain.
In a wave of violence that began Sunday in Borno and quickly
spread to three other northern states, Boko Haram - which means
"Western education is sacrilege" - attacked police stations,
churches and government buildings. The group is seeking the
imposition of strict Islamic Shariah law in Nigeria, a
On Wednesday, troops retaliated, killing about 100 people, half
of them inside the sect's mosque. The bodies of barefoot young men
littered the streets of Maiduguri on Thursday morning as security
forces hunted militants.
Ibrahim Zakzaky, the head of Nigeria's Islamic Movement, said
hard questions should be asked about the operation.
"The majority of those killed were innocent civilians," he
maintained. "We believe the police just indiscriminately opened
Amnesty International said Friday it had spoken to many family
members of people detained by the Nigerian police and whose
whereabouts are unknown.
"The organization fears that the missing individuals have been
executed," the group said.
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