Sunday, January 22, 2012

Responsible for close to 200 deaths so far this year, Boko Haram, whose name means "Non-Islamic Education is sacrilege"

Scores dead in northern Nigeria as Islamist militants terrorise the country

Group bidding to impose sharia law claims responsibility for wave of attacks in city of Kano
Monica Mark in Lagos
21 January 2012

More than 140 people have died in the northern Nigerian city of Kano after a series of attacks by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. In a series of attacks on Friday, as residents were leaving mosques, five police buildings, two immigration offices and the local headquarters of the national intelligence services were targeted.

"We are still collecting the bodies so we cannot confirm the total death toll. We have nine so far. We will know the final number once we have finished collecting," a spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency told the Observer.

Witnesses reported seeing at least 100 bodies sprawled around the regional police base alone. Officials in the main hospital said the wounded and dead were still being ferried in on Saturday, some after being trapped by overnight gunfights.

Authorities largely refused to offer casualty statistics as mourners began claiming the bodies of their loved ones to bury before sundown, following Islamic tradition. However, a hospital official told the Associated Press at least 143 people were killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the death toll to journalists. The figure could rise further, since other bodies could be held at other clinics and hospitals.

Olusola Amore, a police official, appealed for members of the public to come forward "with information on the identity and location of these hoodlums".

Britain's Foreign Office updated its travel advice, warning people not to travel to Kano. On its website the FCO said: "We advise against all travel to Kano whilst the curfew remains in force and for those in Kano to remain vigilant and to exercise caution.

It urged British nationals in Nigeria to comply with all curfews.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said: "The nature of these attacks has sickened people around the world and I send my deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of those killed and to those injured.

Responsible for close to 200 deaths so far this year, Boko Haram, whose name means "Non-Islamic Education is sacrilege", wants to extend sharia law – already in place in some northern states – across Nigeria's 160 million-strong population, which is evenly split between Muslim and Christian.

Analysts say the group has so far failed to gain significant traction outside its homebase states of Yobe and Borno in the north, but the group stages near-daily shootings on police targets there and claimed responsibility for the first ever suicide attack in Nigeria, which killed 24 people in the capital, Abuja, in August. A Christmas Day attack on a Catholic church just outside the capital killed at least 37 people.

"The temptation is going to be to see these attacks as an indication of greater co-ordination, to which I would say maybe, maybe not," said John Campbell, the former US ambassador to Nigeria. "It's not rocket science for the various groups to go around planting bombs in government headquarters."

However, he warned that a slow response to a movement that, analysts say, has used a fanatical ideology to stoke local economic and tribal rivalries, is eroding faith in the ability of Nigerian authorities to manage the threat. Kano, an ancient city on the cusp of the Sahara that has a long history as a bustling trade and learning centre, had largely escaped the violence that has plagued the north of the country.

The most deadly spree yet by Boko Haram came just days after popular protests forced the government to partially back down over plans to remove fuel subsidies in Africa's top oil economy. As thousands took to the streets last week, President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged that Boko Haram had infiltrated the government and security services. In a belated statement regarding the Kano attacks, he said: "As a responsible government, we will not fold our hands and watch enemies of democracy, for that is what these mindless killers are, perpetrate unprecedented evil in our land."

A security source said community reports had foiled two attacks in Kano last year. "The population recognised the Boko Haram people from their tribal markings and reported them to us. They are ordinary people known to the communities. So people are now wondering why the government cannot protect them," he said.

By Saturday afternoon residents began to venture outside, looking for bodies of relatives and friends that Muslim custom dictates should be buried within a day. Most were still reeling from the ferocity and speed of the attacks. Police officers, who apparently bore the brunt of casualties, had been pulled off the streets and replaced by soldiers.

In the main Kano hospital, Musa, a police officer wounded in the attack, wondered if his colleagues at the regional headquarters had survived. He told how, as he started work on Friday, a Honda approached the building at high speed. "There was a powerful sound, then complete darkness. Darkness and smoke. Then the noise of shooting and then I couldn't feel my leg. I was shot in the leg," he said.

While Musa was trying to crawl out of the burning building, in another part of the town centre Nura Maaji, whose Advocacy Nigeria group fronted protests to reinstate the fuel subsidy, was meeting with colleagues. At first he thought the explosion was an attempt to stop the group convening.

"Then we heard a sound like thunder. Before we knew it, there was another explosion," he said. "We saw black smoke with fire in it coming from the [state police building]."

Running gun battles erupted as he attempted to drive back home. "People in cars were exchanging gunshots with the police," he said. "Kano has never been like this. It was terrible, it has cast fear in the minds of residents."

Kano's governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, appealed to residents to remain calm and said a 24-hour state curfew would be lifted shortly.

Religious leaders have mediated with Boko Haram in the past, which has threatened to make the country "ungovernable" in retaliation for the imprisonment of its members.

The tense mood has spread beyond Kano. "People are really angry – they are thinking where could be next?" said Abuja resident Abdulkadir Alkasim. "They need some sort of reassurance from the president which they are not getting at the moment." more Terror Timeline

H/T @w_nicht


Anonymous said...

27 students killed in Northeast Nigeria

Himself said...

Spare a thought for them, it's as much as any of us can do.

Blogging about it isn't going to do much to combat that degree of inhumanity is it?

Anonymous said...