Calm returns to Nigerian city, body count rises

Residents ventured on to the streets of the Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Saturday after the authorities cleared the bodies of hundreds of victims of days of clashes with a radical Islamic sect.

State government and Health Ministry officials finished collecting corpses in the centre of the city, some of them swollen after lying in the streets for days, and the security forces began to withdraw their road blocks.

Aliiyu Maikano, north-eastern disaster management officer for the Nigerian Red Cross, said the bodies of suspected members of the Boko Haram sect who had tried to flee the military crackdown were still being brought in from outside the city.

“Some of the militants were trying to escape into the bush. They are still going round picking up some bodies of those who tried to escape,” he told Reuters.

At least 300 people have been killed in states around northern Nigeria during almost a week of rioting by followers of Boko Haram, a militant sect which wants a wider adoption of sharia (Islamic law) across Africa’s most populous nation.

Maiduguri, where sect leader Mohammed Yusuf had his base, has seen the heaviest fighting. Local officials had collected more than 200 bodies by early on Friday from the city alone.

The authorities are hoping the killing of sect leader Mohammed Yusuf (39) who was shot dead while in police detention in Maiduguri on Thursday, will bring an end to violence.

“I urge everyone to resume their normal lives now that the unfortunate Boko Haram uprising has been crushed,” Ali Modu Sheriff, governor of Borno state, of which Maiduguri is the capital, told state radio.

“The security agencies shall continue the house to house searches for members of the sect in order to bring them to justice and I urge you all to cooperate with them,” he said.

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

Officials have said Yusuf died in a shoot-out while trying to escape detention but human rights groups have condemned what appeared to have been an execution-style killing.

Kidnapped, wounded and displaced
Red Cross workers visited around 140 women and children whom police said they had rescued from Boko Haram compounds.

Maikano said some of the women and children at police headquarters were thought to be relatives of sect members but others, from at least six different states, said they had been abducted and held against their will.

“Some told us they were kidnapped at gunpoint and brought on buses to Maiduguri.
Some were forced to be the wives of sect members while the children were put into their schools,” Maikano said after distributing rice, mattresses and mosquito nets.

Around 100 people were still being treated at two hospitals in Maiduguri for gunshot wounds, machete blows, knife wounds and beatings. Scores more have been discharged.

Thousands of people who fled their homes have also started to return, although the Red Cross was still looking after around 22 families whose houses were destroyed in the unrest.

The uprising began on Sunday when members of the group—loosely modelled on the Taliban in Afghanistan and whose name means “Western education is sinful”—were arrested in Bauchi state on suspicion of plotting to attack a police station.

Yusuf’s supporters, armed with machetes, knives, home-made hunting rifles and petrol bombs, then rioted in several states across northern Nigeria, attacking churches, police stations, prisons and government buildings.

Boko Haram’s views are not espoused by the majority of Nigeria’s Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa. Muslim umbrella group Jama’atu Nasril Islam has condemned the violence and voiced support for the security forces. - Reuters

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