Monday, July 26, 2010

Police on alert over Boko Haram mayhem anniversary

Police were on the alert on Saturday searching for weapons, while residents were on edge in Maiduguri and environs in Borno State ahead of the first anniversary of the Boko Haram sect group's deadly uprising with fears of possible strike again.

The group's deputy, Abubakar Shekau, was believed killed as well, but video clips have emerged in recent months in which he threatens to "avenge the killings of our brethren", adding to concerns that the militant group was re-grouping, though local police dismissed the clips as digital mockery and insisted that he is dead.

The sect leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was also killed. Police were accused of killing him after he had been captured alive, but officers said he was shot while trying to escape from custody.

"What happened was only the prelude, the actual show has not started yet," he said in one clip.

Authorities have set up night checkpoints and are searching vehicles in a bid to keep weapons from entering the city of Maiduguri, the centre of the uprising.

A dozen police vans escorted by a siren-blaring armoured car had been regularly rumbling through the city's streets, but the show of force was halted recently because it rattled residents, a police officer said.

"This is part of the security strategy because these troublemakers may want to use the cover of night to bring in arms," said a police sergeant at a checkpoint on Friday night, where about a dozen cars waited.

Last year's uprising began on July 26 and spread to four states, though it was centred in Maiduguri in the country's mainly Muslim north.

It ended four days later with more than 800 dead, most of them sect members. The military and police launched an assault on the sect's headquarters, leaving it in rubble.

While Monday marks the start of the insurrection, Friday may pose a larger risk since it is the date Yusuf was killed.

The scale of the uprising and military assault last year shocked the country, Africa's most populous nation where about half of the 150 million population is Muslim.

The sect, while known as the Nigerian Taliban, is also called Boko Haram, which means, "Western education is sin" in local dialect.

Its ranks had been filled by a range of recruits, including university dropouts, unemployed youths, and those seeking to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state.

"Everybody is apprehensive of what might happen in the next few days," Maiduguri resident Abdulqahhar Idrissa told AFP.

Rumours are all over the city that members of Boko Haram are going to strike during the anniversary and everyone is afraid because we know the agony we went through last year during the fighting."

One police officer at the site said recently that a suspected member of the sect had come to the mosque a couple of weeks earlier to pray for Yusuf.

Daily Independent

Related stories: Tension in Borno over Al-Jazeera Boko Haram video 

Video and transcript of Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf interrogated before his execution

Ten killed in fresh Jos attacks 

Residents worry about their future in Jos, Nigeria

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