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Questions Trail Death of Boko Haram Leader in Nigeria

Published on Saturday 1st August 2009

Questions and concerns are being raised over the death of the notorious leader of Boko Haram Islamic sect, Mohammed Yusuf who was killed, Thursday while in the custody of the Nigerian police after his purported arrest earlier that day in Maduguri, Borno State.

Human rights groups have criticised the manner in which Yusuf was killed, with some of them calling for a probe into his sudden death by officers of the police force.

Meanwhile, the Borno State Government and Red Cross officials yesterday collected hundred of bodies from the streets of Maiduguri following days of clashes between security forces and members of the Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group.

Commenting on the slaying of the Boko Haram leader yesterday, the Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili, while expressing relief at Yusuf's death, however, said the government would look into the circumstances leading to his death.

Yusuf's dead body was shown to journalists on Thursday just hours after police said they had captured him.

Akunyili who spoke on BBC Network Africa said Yusuf's demise was positive for Nigeria, but added that she was concerned about the death and that the government would find out exactly what happened.

The minister continued: "What is important is that he (Yusuf) has been taken out of the way, to stop him using people to cause mayhem. He has been brainwashing youths to cause trouble."

Akunyili also praised security forces, saying they had managed to stop the violence spreading even further and that normality was returning to the northern states.

But human rights campaigners have insisted that Yusuf was executed extra-judicially and have called for an immediate investigation into his death.

"The extra-judicial killing of Yusuf in police custody is a shocking example of the brazen contempt by the Nigerian police for the rule of law," said Eric Guttschuss, a member of a New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Another Human Rights Watch researcher, Corinne Dufka, told AP: "The Nigerian authorities must act immediately to investigate and hold to account all those responsible for this unlawful killing and any others associated with the recent violence in northern Nigeria."

Akunyili denied the allegation and told the BBC that the government "does not condone extra-judicial killings."

The police, meanwhile, yesterday maintained that Yusuf died in a shoot-out with the police while trying to escape custody.

Also yesterday, a former commissioner under Governor Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State, Ustaz Buji Fai who was alleged to have links with Boko Haram, was captured and killed by security men still combing the state for members of the group.

The former Borno State commissioner Ustaz Buji Fai, it was gathered, was captured in his farm after engaging security men in a shoot-out.

He was subsequently brought to Government House "to be shown to his former boss and thereafter taken to the police headquarters" where he was allegedly executed by irate policemen.

"Fai was killed along with other fleeing Boko Haram members in an exchange of fire this morning (yesterday) along Benishek-Maiduguri Road," said Isa Azare, spokesman for the police command in Maiduguri.

Late Fai was twice elected chairman of Baga Local Government and later appointed by Sheriff to oversee both Ministries of Water Resources and Religious Affairs between 2003 and 2007.

Meanwhile, the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Paul Dike, the acting Inspector General of Police, Ogbonnaya Onovo and other top security chiefs continued their tour of Maiduguri yesterday.

During a visit to Governor Sheriff, Dike told the governor that they were in the state to assess the level of destruction and insisted that they had succeeded in "smoking out" the group and liquidating the leader.

Dike promised that his men would now "smoke out" the remnants of the group still in hiding.

The governor commended President Umaru Yar'Adua for his swift assistance and appealed to citizens to remain calm and vigilant and report any "suspicious character in their midst to the nearest security agent."

The Boko Haram group led by Yusuf has been responsible for days of violent unrest in which hundreds of people died in clashes between his followers and security forces in Bauchi, Kano and Borno.

Thousands of others who fled their homes have been displaced by the violence in the region.

Troops had stormed Boko Haram's stronghold in Maiduguri on Wednesday night killing many of the Islamic extremists and forcing others to flee.

Yusuf was arrested the following day after reportedly being found hiding in a goat pen at his parents-in-law's house.

Later, journalists were shown two films - one apparently showing Yusuf making a confession, the other showing what appeared to be his body, riddled with bullets.

His sect, Boko Haram, is against Western education. It believes Nigeria's government is being corrupted by Western ideas and wants to see Islamic law imposed across Nigeria.

The violence began on Sunday night in Bauchi State, before spreading to other states in the north.

Several days of gun battles between militants and security forces ensued, culminating in the assault on the militant's stronghold in Maiduguri.

Although there has been no official confirmation on the death toll in Maiduguri, the Borno State Government and Red Cross officials were reported to have collected hundreds of bodies from the streets of the city following days of clashes between security agencies and members of the Boko Haram sect.

The officials piled the corpses, some of them swollen after lying in the streets for days, into open trucks as police and soldiers patrolled the northern city.

"As of yesterday, we had more than 200 dead bodies," Aliyu Maikano, a disaster management officer for the Nigerian Red Cross, told Reuters, adding that bodies were still being collected.

The toll in Maiduguri brings to at least 300 the number of people killed in violence that erupted in several states around northern Nigeria since Sunday.

The authorities are hoping the killing of Yusuf, whose Boko Haram movement wants a wider adoption of Shari'a across Nigeria, will bring an end to the five-day uprising by his followers.

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

"I want to see the body of Mohammed Yusuf to know the man who has caused us so much pain and hardship. May his soul rot in hell," said one Maiduguri resident, Nasir Abba, in whose neighborhood some of the heaviest fighting took place.

Also yesterday, about 121 women mostly wives of the dreaded militants were rescued and returned to Bauchi from Maiduguri - headquarters of the militia - but the women remained defiant.

The wives of the dreaded militants returned to Bauchi from Maiduguri by the authorities are now being interrogated by men of the Borno State Police Command.
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Also rescued and brought back to Bauchi were children mostly below the age of ten who were taken to Maiduguri with their mothers under the pretext that they were going to learn more about the Qur'an and Islam from Islamic clerics there.

Some of the women who spoke at the Bauchi Police Command headquarters declared that they were only taken to Maiduguri nine days ago with the consent of their husbands who were militants of the Boko Haram sect.

A few of the women remained defiant, maintaining that what they did was right as their belief is that it is only the Qur'an that is superior to all other holy books.

Leader of the women, who simply gave her name as Salamatu declared: "We went to Maiduguri for deeper Islamic knowledge and for the period that we were there, we were taught nothing but pure religious issues which has now made us better Muslims than others.

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