Nigeria under an Islamist ordeal

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The Nigerian government, Wednesday, claimed to have brought the violence in Maiduguri under control. The announcement came after the military bombed leader of the Islamist group, Mohamed Yusuf’s house. Boko Haram is demanding a stricter version of the Sharia law, which has been in force in the north of the country since the beginning of the decade. Northern Nigeria has been the scene of violence between government forces and an Islamic group, Boko Haram, since Sunday. The provisional estimated number of deaths is reported to be about 300.

The toll of human loss has risen in the northern Nigerian state of Bauchi. Fighting between military forces and the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has spread to the northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Yobe and Kano in the north. The stronghold of the group, locally known as the “taliban”, is located in the predominantly Muslim north. A police source told AFP Wednesday that more than 300 people had been killed, most them “Taliban”. Wednesday morning, residents of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state took refuge at police stations to escape the violence, while more than 3 000 people were reported to have fled the district of Bayan to take refuge at the Maimalari military barracks. The Nigerian police has also freed 180 women and children who had been jeld captive by the Haram Boko in a house in Maiduguri.

The government army Tuesday morning shelled a mosque that had been mapped out as radical Islamists base as well as the group’s leader’s (Mohamed Yusuf) house. The head of the military operation, Colonel Ben Ahanotu, told the BBC that about 250 heavily armed men were seen defending Mohamed Yusuf’s home. Personal effects of some of the Islamists killed in the cross fire suggest that some of them could have come from neighbouring Chad and Niger. The number of people in the group has not yet been determined. According to the spokesman for the Minister of Information, popular support for the group is in decline and not worrying, but his assurances has not stopped the wave of panic that has seized the local populations over the re-emergence of religious related violence. Before his departure for Brazil Wednesday morning, Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua said that the fighting in Maiduguri would be over by Wednesday night.

Boko Haram demands the enforcement of a stricter version of Sharia

The clashes began Sunday in the state of Bauchi. After attacks against churches, police stations, prisons and public buildings, the government decided to launch a major offensive to crush the group. The group, Boko Haram, meaning ‘Western education prohibited’ in Hausa, is made up of Islamist radicals. The group was created in 2004 with an estimated 200 youths, after they dropped out of school. The radicals are demanding the enforcement of a harsher version of the Sharia Islamic law throughout the country. The group rejects all western teachings and has accused the government of being corrupted by western ideas. Although they also call themselves the “Taliban” and claim they are influenced by those (Taliban) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, no links with Al Qaeda have, so far, been established.

Though against the constitution, Sharia is enforced in twelve out of thirty-six Nigerian states. The initial enforcement of the law led to violent clashes between the Muslim majority in the north and the predominant Christians in the south. The last recorded violent clashes crisis was in Jos, the capital city of the Plateau state in the central region of the country, in November 2008. An estimated 200 people lost their lives. With 140 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. The ethno-religious clashes are undermining the country’s legendary religious multicultural integrity.

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