Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nigeria News Bulletin: Police on Red Alert in Abuja; Hundreds Killed in Military Assaults in the North

Police on Red Alert in Abuja

From Yemi Akinsuyi and Ogochukwu Obiesie in Abuja, 07.29.2009

There was apprehension at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja yesterday following the sectarian violence in some states in the North.

The police helped to heighten the fear as over 50 police patrol vehicles, including armoured cars, in a convoy paraded selected streets in the city blaring their sirens.

A bloody clash between the police and members of an Islamic fundamentalist group known as Boko Haram (“Education is sin”), left many dead in the early hours of Sunday in Bauchi, and later spread to Kano, Yobe and Borno States.

The militants, opposed to western education, had been campaigning for the imposition of Shariah (Islamic law), on the 36 states of the federation, allegedly sparked off the crisis when its members launched an attack on a Police station in Bauchi, leading to the bloodbath.

Over 150 people were left dead, while indigenes of the area are said to be fleeing their homes.

As at Monday, the attack by the group had spread to Borno, Yobe, Gombe, and Kano States. Although none of the policemen on patrol accosted or harrassed anybody along the street, they were battle ready for any emergency.

When THISDAY visited some Police formations in the city, the main gate to virtually all of them were either half closed or under locks and keys.

Speaking on the apprehension in the city, Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Emmanuel Ojukwu, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), said there was no cause for alarm and that those combat ready policemen were only performing their normal duty of protecting lives and property.

“There is no problem in Abuja. Area is calm and peaceful, and as for the mobile policemen on patrol, they are just performing their statutory duty of protecting lives and properties. There is nothing abnormal about their patrol. No cause for alarm”, he said.

2 Soldiers, 1 Policemen Killed in Bauchi

From Segun Awofadeji Bauchi, 07.29.2009

Police Authorities yesterday confirmed that three security personnel, made up of two soldiers and one policeman, were killed during exchange of fire with the notorious Islamic sect, 'Boko Haram' in Bauchi, last Sunday.

Similarly, security had been reinforced within the state, to track down fleeing members of the sect in a mop-up operation.

The confirmation was made by the AIG in charge of Zone 12 of the Nigeria Police Force, Mr Moses Anegbode, while briefing newsmen on happenings in the zone, with particular reference to the operation carried out by Bauchi State Police Command.

He said members of the Islamic sect targeted the Police in their attacks, because as anti-establishment sect, they see the police as a symbol of authority and therefore, the first target when hitting government.

He said members of the sect who see anything western as prohibited, are nothing but criminals masquerading in the name of religion, adding that the Police had no option but to open fire in self defence, after they attacked the Dutsen Tanshi Police Station.

Anegbode also said 176 heavily armed suspects, most of them from Yobe and Borno States, were arrested at DIC, behind Styer Company, at the outskirts of Bauchi, while planning to set the company on fire.

He said items recovered from the hoodlums included two bags of gun powder for making explosives, 200 detonators, 2000 locally made cylinders for making bombs and seven bags of potassium nitrate for making explosives and some food items they were stock piling before launching their attack.

He said all the injured and the dead had been taken to the hospital, while those arrested were being interrogated and will be taken to court as soon as investigations were concluded.

Shoot-out in Maiduguri as Soldiers Battle Fanatics

From George Oji in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri,


Members of the Islamic fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram, came under serious attack yesterday in Maiduguri, Borno State capital, as soldiers stormed their stronghold in armoured tanks in a bid to flush them out of town.

The number of casualties recorded in the attack by the sect headed by Yusuf Muhammed, a cleric, could not be ascertained last night as the fight was still raging.

Unconfirmed report, however, put the death toll at 300, most of them from the side of the Islamic militants.

The attack by members of the sect said to be opposed to Western education had begun in Bauchi, Bauchi State capital, on Sunday and spread to Borno, Yobe and Kano States by Monday.

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who left the country yesterday for Brazil on a three-day state visit said the crisis was not all about inter-religious skirmishes.

He said security agencies were on top of the situation and that by today the remaining insurgents would have been subdued and peace would have completely returned to the affected states.

The President also spoke about the altercation with Lagos State Government over the local councils in the state, stating that the Federal Government had for now chosen the option of dialogue to convince the state government to revert to its constitutionally recognized 20 councils and dissolve the 37 others created in 2005.

Speaking to State House Correspondents at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja before his departure to Brazil, the President said if the dialogue approach failed to resolve the matter, the Federal Government would have no choice but to apply other measures to make the state government comply with the constitution.

The General Officer Commanding (GOC) Third Armoured Division, headquartered in Jos, Plateau State, Maj. Gen. Saleh Maina, who was asked to move to Maiduguri, is said to be coordinating the onslaught against the militant sect.

The GOC arrived Maiduguri with six light armoured tanks ferried to town in a military Hercules aircraft and along with some military officers to complement the growing list of security personnel in readiness to capture the stronghold of the fundamentalists.

Termed the mother of all battles, THISDAY saw military personnel who were also loaded in five military trucks dispatched to level down the religious sect’s stronghold.

But it was learnt that the sect members most of whom were holed up in the domain of their leader were said to be keeping some police and military officers hostage as human shield against the attack.

It was also learnt that a group of fundamentalists allegedly called up from Kano to reinforce the depleting group in Borno were attacked by security men while trying to gain entrance into town where they were gunned down.

The sect members, who attacked the 21 Armoured Brigade, Maiduguri, were also allegedly surrounded by soldiers who shot and killed about 200 of them armed with bows, arrows and grenades.

THISDAY also gathered that the police freed some women that were kidnapped by some alleged fundamentalists from Bauchi.

The women, who were at the Police Headquarters in Maiduguri as at press time, were allegedly held hostage in one of the villages of Borno.

Meanwhile, the number of displaced persons has risen to about 4,000 as people continued to migrate from the stronghold of the sect to more serene parts of the town which are still cordoned off by the military.

Commercial activities in the town remained grounded as residents stayed indoors for fear that the crisis may escalate even further.

Speaking to journalists on the displaced persons, the Assistant Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Apollos Jediel, said the North-east zonal office of the agency on seeing the high number of the displaced persons got in touch with its headquarters who instructed that relief materials should be distributed to them.

Jediel disclosed that his office had already presented food items and beddings to Borno State Governor Modu Ali Sherif for onward distribution to the displaced persons.

He said those displaced are presently quartered at three places, Maimalari and Giwa military barracks as well as the barrack at the police headquarters.

President Yar’Adua said the sect members were not the first to attack security agents, noting that security agencies had been monitoring the activities of the group and when the insurgents found out that the security agencies were closing in on them they were forced out to defend themselves.

He said his administration would not tolerate any arms insurrection anywhere in the country.

Yar’Adua said: “We have the situation under control now and I believe by the end of today everything will have taken shape. I have been monitoring this situation in the last few days.

“By yesterday, the situation in Bauchi State had been contained completely and the crisis in Kano and Potiskum has also been dealt with.

“What we have now is a situation in Borno State where the leader of the so-called Taliban group is residing and where most of them have migrated from all the Northern states to go, prepare and declare the holy war. We are going to launch an operation, the main operation with immediate effect.

“I have just finished meeting with our Defence Chiefs who have been in constant contact with the governors of Borno, Bauchi, Kano and other states.

“So, this situation is being brought under control and I want to assure the nation. What has happened is that it is the government that has moved to nip in the bud the action of a potentially dangerous people. These people have been organising, penetrating our society procuring arms, learning how to make explosives and bombs to disturb, confuse and force their belief on the rest of Nigerians.

“Definitely, our security agencies have been tracking them for years and I believe that the operation we have launched now will be an operation that will contain them once and for all. Once the operation in Maiduguri is completed today, we are going to continue with the security surveillance all over the Northern states to fish out any remnants of these elements and deal with them squarely and promptly.

“I want to assure this nation that this administration will not tolerate any arms insurrection anywhere and any part of this country.

“Anywhere any group of people begin to launch arm insurrection and destruction against their fellow Nigerians, they will be dealt with squarely and promptly.

“I want to emphasize that this is not an inter-religious crisis and it is not the Taliban group that attacked the security agents first, no. It was as a result of a security information gathered on their intention, movement and what they are about to launch by getting all their people to move so that they can launch a major attack. The situation is under control and I want to assure the people of this country that peace and security of lives and property will be fully guaranteed.”

On the Lagos council issue, Yar’Adua stated that the Federal Government was not out to engage the state government in an unnecessary altercation but rather to ensure that the action of the state government does not violate the constitution.

Responding to a question on what the Federal Government would do with the expiration of the ultimatum given the state to revert to the original 20 councils, the President said: “I don’t know what ultimatum; I don’t see how the issue between the Federal Government and the Lagos State translates to ultimatum.

“What has happened was that I wrote to the Lagos State Governor drawing his attention to the fact that both himself and myself have sworn to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of this country and that the action of Lagos State Government and the state INEC was unconstitutional because the constitution provides for only 20 local governments in Lagos State and I advised the Lagos State Governor to take steps to rectify this unconstitutional act.

“He replied me, quoting the state’s statutes and putting forward his legal position that they did not violate the constitution. I have referred his reply to the AGF to study and advise me.

“What I am determined to do is that what is constitutional must be adhered to. So if the argument put forward cannot stand on the violation of the constitution, I will invite him to discuss further with him and dialogue so that this can be resolved peacefully.

“But the bottom line is that the constitution cannot be compromised.

The constitution must not be violated. If at the end of the day, dialogue fails to resolve the situation, then the Federal Government will be forced to take measures that will ensure that the Lagos State Government, its INEC and other agencies are compelled to abide by the constitution. This is a process that will take some few months and I hope that we will be able to resolve the issue through constructive dialogue.

“Our democracy is still young, we are bound to make mistakes here and there but the important thing is that we must work hard to ensure that there is rule of law in this country. We know it is not easy but it is important to our survival.”

The President also commented on efforts being made by his administration to end the prolonged Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU) strike, noting that the Federal Government was almost arriving at a final agreement with the university lecturers on the major issues raised.

He explained that he had directed Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to collaborate with the Education Minister and other relevant arms of government to ensure that all the knotty issues were quickly resolved so that the students would resume academic studies.

He reiterated the Federal Government’s unwillingness to enter into agreements with the union that would be binding on the state governments, noting that the two levels of government possess different capacities.

“We have been doing everything possible to stop the crisis. I have met with their officials and the Vice-President too, to re-assess the situation on the crisis with ASUU to see what step again the government can take to bring it to an end.

“ASUU is an organisation with membership cutting across Federal and state governments. The Federal Government cannot sign an agreement on behalf of for instance, Lagos State or Kano State to direct what they are going to pay to lecturers in their own universities,” he said.

Kano: 53 Fundamentalists Arrested, 4 Killed

From Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano, 07.29.2009

Twenty people were arrested on Monday in Kano, in the aftermath of the attack on Wudil Police Station, bringing the total number of those arrested to 53.

Kano Police Spokesman, SP. Baba Mohammed, said the number of deaths has also increased to four.

He said the DPO of Wudil Division, CSP Sagir Idris, who sustained gunshot wounds during the attack, is responding to treatment, adding that 100 people believed to be members of Izalatul Bidi’a Sect on transit, who were picked up in the heat of the crisis, had been set free.

He said they were not detained over the crisis, but were questioned and set free when nothing incriminating was found against them.

THISDAY in Kano learnt that uneasy calm now pervades the commercial city, as the news of the development spread.

Mohammed said the situation is under control and urge residents to go about their legitimate duties without fear, adding that security had been beefed-up to forestall any untoward incident.

Police Beef Up Security in Zamfara

From Imam Imam in Gusau, 07.29.2009

Zamfara State Police Command has said it has placed its men on high alert, to prevent religious crisis similar to the ones that broke out in some parts of the North within the week.

There are fears in some quarters that Zamfara, being the first state to introduce the Islamic legal system in 2000, may be attacked by the extremist group, Boko Haram, meaning, western education is sin.

The Command's Public Relations Officer (PPRO), ASP Lawal Abdullahi, who briefed reporters yesterday in Gusau, said adequate preventive measures have been adopted to ensure that no crisis broke out.

He said Commissioner of Police, Muhammed Abukakar, had directed that all government buildings and known vulnerable points in the state be placed on 24 hours surveillance, adding that both men and officers of the command are ready for any eventuality.

He said all border towns and surrounding areas are being watched closely, and assured that all persons moving in and out of the state suspected to have any link with the extremist group will be held for questioning.

ASP Lawal said so far, there is no indication that the extremist group has members in Zamfara, but said the Police will not leave anything to chance, in its effort to carry out its constitutional responsibilities.

He appealed to traditional and community leaders to watch what happens in their domains, and appealed to members of the public to intimate the police of any suspicious movement of persons or group of persons within the state.

Military Battles Sect Members, Death Toll Rises

By Sukuji Bakoji (Kaduna), Paul Arhewe, Aramide Oikelome (Lagos), Chesa Chesa, Sule Lazarus, Otei Oham (Abuja), Augustine Madu-West (Kano) and Abdulkareem Haruna (Maiduguri)

Federal lawmakers on Tuesday demanded a probe of the religious mayhem in the North, on the day the police banned open air preaching to curb the spread, as the military descended on Islamic extremists, and the death toll rose in Maiduguri and Kano.

About 600 people had died by Monday.

Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) Zone 12, Moses Anaegbode, enthused in Bauchi that the ban would help uphold law and order and complement the dusk to dawn curfew imposed.

Maiduguri remains under siege, and tension, as the joint military/police team on Tuesday took the battle to the camps of equally armed sect members, led by Muhammed Yusuf, who had attacked security formations and government structures on Monday.

The security personnel attacked the hide-out with superior ammunition, including armoured tanks, which have produced a large number of deaths.

Sources said Yusuf's second in command, Mallam Shikau, was captured alive. Shikau wields tremendous influence among the highly dogmatic members.

The attack on the enclave, authorised by Aso Rock, was led by Major General Sale Maina, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3rd Armoured Brigade, who arrived Maiduguri in the afternoon to take charge of the operation.

Shaken by the military offensive, which left hundreds of them dead, the jihadists retreated to their fortress, popularly called Markas, where Yusuf holds court amid tight security by heavily armed surrogates.

The streets is Maiduguri are deserted, with people discussing in front of their homes in groups, watching and waiting in anxiety for what comes next.

Their biggest concern is that Yusuf could evade arrest again.

Communication in the metropolis is very difficult as most mobile telephone networks are grounded, allegedly by the sect members.

Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and his Deputy, Adamu Dibal, now move in and out of the Government House in bullet-proof vehicles with heavily armed security escorts.

National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Assistant Co-ordinator (North East), Apolos Jediel, said about 4,000 persons have been displaced from their homes and camped in military barracks.

President Umaru Yar'Adua declared before reporters in Abuja that his administration would not tolerate religious fundamentalism which has led to deaths and attacks on security installations.

He said at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport before his departure to Brazil for a four-day visit that the situation has been brought under control but that the security agencies would continue surveillance all over the North to avert a recurrence.

His words: "The government has moved to nip in the bud the action of a potentially dangerous people. These people have been organising, penetrating our society procuring arms, learning how to make explosives and bombs to disturb, confuse and force their belief on the rest of Nigerians.

"Definitely, our security agencies have been tracking them for years, and I believe that the operation we have launched now will contain them once and for all.

"Once the operation in Maiduguri is completed, we will continue with the security surveillance all over the Northern states to fish out any remnants of these elements and deal with them squarely and promptly.

"I want to assure the nation that this administration will not tolerate any armed insurrection anywhere in the country.

"Anywhere any group of people begins to launch armed insurrection and destruction against their fellow Nigerians, they will be dealt with squarely and promptly.

Yar'Adua explained that the attacks are not inter-religious in nature, "And it is not the Taliban group that attacked the security agents first. It was as a result of security information gathered on their movement and intention to get all their people to move so that they can launch a major attack."

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in New York expressed shock at "yet another round of sectarian violence in parts of Northern Nigeria, (and condemned) the unnecessary loss of human life and the destruction of property."

Last November, sectarian attacks in Jos claimed nearly 1,000 lives.

On Tuesday, the death toll rose to four in Kano, where the police also arrested additional 20 sect members in a pit toilet in Wudil, bringing the total number of those arrested to 56.

Eleven of them are in critical condition at the Murtala Muhammed Specialist Hospital in Kano, following bullet wounds received in their clash with the police.

Police Public Relations Officer, Baba Mohammed, said nooks and crannies are still being combed for others, and that security has more than doubled in and around Kano, with anti-riot police deployed in strategic locations.

Kano, the commercial nerve centre of the North, on Monday joined Borno, Bauchi, and Yobe States under the siege of Muslim fundamentalists whose activities have sent panic everywhere in the upper part of the Niger River.

Residents of Kano were gripped by the confrontation between the police and the jihadists, which led to the death of three people and injuries to several others.

The leader of the sect Abdulmimuni Ibrahim Mohammed, who was paraded at the Bompai police headquarters along with 30 other suspects, said their mission is to press home their demand for the abolition of Western education in the country, because it has no place in "Islam and so represents evil."

Monday's attack on the Wudil police station was a replay of a 2007 incident by a group that calls itself "Taliban" which attacked security formations, killed personnel and stole assorted arms and ammunition before soldiers dislodged them from Kano.

Items for manufacturing explosives were also recovered from them.

Jamaatu Nasril Islam (JNI) also condemned the violence in a statement issued in Kaduna by its acting Secretary General, Abdulkarim Mu'azu Palladan.

He said the JNI will soon convene a meeting of the Central Fatwa Committee to deliberate on the teachings of the jihadists, "So that Muslims and non-Muslims alike will be assured of the fact that this 'Anti-Boko' group is criminal and un-Islamic."

Palladan urged all Muslims to condemn the criminal activities of the sect as well as support the security agencies in preventing new attacks.

He stressed that "as the umbrella Islamic organisation in the country, (the JNI) cannot and will not fold its arms and watch the carnage and madness going on in the country (particularly in the North East) in the name of Islam.

"We therefore wish to categorically disassociate Islam from the activities of the 'Anti-Boko' misguided group, and denounce the wanton murders and destruction of properties perpetrated by this group."

In Lagos, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) President, Ayo Oritsejafor, blamed the 17 Southern Governors for the killing of Christians in the latest uprising in parts of the North.

He blamed Southern Governors for their inability to defend Christians living in the North, pointing out that some of the victims may have contributed to their election into office.

Oritsejafor said he has written a letter to all Southern Governors on the need for them to engage the 19 Northern Governors to ward off sectarian crises in the North.

Back in Abuja, members of the House of Representatives in plenary condemned the violence and urged the Federal Government to order an investigation.

The resolution arose from a motion tabled by Rabe Nasir (PDP, Katsina), who noted that Nigeria has contended with so many religious disturbances and the problem has refused to abate, and could instead assume a more damaging dimension.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
19:07 Mecca time, 16:07 GMT

Nigeria hunts Islamist fighters

Nigerian troops mounted an offensive in Maiduguri, cracking down on Boko Haram

Nigerian troops and police are hunting for the remnants of Boko Haram, an Islamist group that went on a killing spree in the country's north.

At least 30 people were killed in fresh clashes between security forces and the group the northern state of Yobe on Wednesday, a police source said.

"Thirty have so far been killed in Hawan Malka," the AFP news agency quoted the source as saying, referring to an area outside Potiskum, Yobe's second largest city.

Wednesday's violence came after the army shelled a mosque and the home of Mohammed Yusuf, the group's alleged leader, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

"We are not sure whether he has been killed in the shelling or has managed to escape," a police officer said of Yusuf.

Boko Haram opposes western-style education and has said it wants to lead an armed insurrection and rid society of "immorality" and "infidelity".

About 140 people have been killed in three days of violence in Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north.

'Under control'

Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria's president, has vowed that the group will be hunted down and punished.

He said that the military operation currently under way would "contain them once and for all".

"They will be dealt with squarely and forthwith," he said.

Before leaving on a trip to Brazil on Tuesday, Yar'Adua said that the situation was "under control".

But fresh fighting broke out in Maiduguri following the assault on the home of Yusuf.

Dozens of people took shelter from the bombardment in a local police station.

"It is the first time in my life that I hear this kind of mortar shelling," said one man, who had taken cover there, along with his wife and three daughters.

"I thought they targeted my house."

An AFP correspondent reported witnessing soldiers shooting three young men dead at point blank range close to the city's police headquarters.

The men, who had just been arrested, were seen kneeling and pleading for their lives before being shot.

"There has been a serious intensification of the assault on members of this group, Boko Haram, which is behind this wave of killings," Yvonne Ndege, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from Abuja, Nigeria's capital, said.

"The president of Nigeria has said that anybody perpetrating violence will be dealt with very, very severely - in fact, that means imminent death," she said.

"If you're caught working among Boko Haram fighters, there is absolutely no question, your life will not be spared."

Deadly rampage

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is prohibited" in the local Hausa dialect, has called for the enforcement of sharia or Islamic law, across Africa's most populous nation.

But Nii Akuetteh, the founder of the Democracy and Conflict Research Institute, an African think-tank, told Al Jazeera that, while religious clashes had occurred in the past in Nigeria, the recent clashes appeared to have little political motivation.

"Previously when you had religion rear its head in politics [in Nigeria] you had a clash between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims in the north.

"I think that one you have to talk of the political implications of that, but the most recent, frankly, it seems to me is nothing but religious extremism and violence."

Nigeria's 140 million people are nearly evenly divided between Christians, who dominate the south, and the primarily northern-based Muslims.

Islamic law was implemented in 12 northern states after Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 following years of military rule.

'Religious prejudice'

Akuetteh also said that poverty, which has sparked conflict elsewhere in Nigeria, mainly in the oil-rich Niger delta, was not a contributing factor.

"I think religious politicisation of religion in Nigeria is separate and apart from the poverty that is there.

"I would look more to religious prejudice and extremists wanting to inject religion into politics rather than poverty per se."

The clashes began on Sunday in nearby Bauchi state, with fighters attacking police stations, before spilling over into Yobe. Officials said that 55 people were killed in both states.

Residents said fighters armed with machetes, knives, bows and arrows and home-made explosives, attacked police buildings and anyone resembling a police officer or government official in the city.

But most of the casualties appear to have been in Maiduguri, the northeastern city known as the birthplace and stronghold of the group.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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