Nigeria hunts Islamists, frees women, children

Nigeria hunts Islamists, frees women, children

By | 2009-07-30T19:43:00+00:00 July 30th, 2009|News|0 Comments

Islamists flee after assault by Nigerian forces

Security forces in northern Nigeria have freed Thursday nearly 200 women and children, putting to flight put Islamist extremists after a brutal all-out assault on their stronghold to crush a five-day uprising that left hundreds dead.

Nigerian troops Nigerian troops raided the Islamists headquarters in the northern city of Maiduguri, killing some 200 followers of the self-styled Taliban sect along with its deputy leader.

"We have taken over their enclave, they are on the run and we are going after them," Colonel Ben Ahonotu, the operation’s commander, told AFP of the raid in the Borno state capital.

In control

The military is in control," defence spokesman colonel Mohammed Yerima told a news conference in the federal capital Abuja.

Bursts of gunfire rang out in the city of Maiduguri and helicopters hovered overhead as the police and army went from door to door hunting followers of radical preacher Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the Boko Haram sect.

The violence erupted when members of the group, which wants a wider adoption of sharia (Islamic law) across Africa’s most populous nation, were arrested on Sunday in Bauchi state on suspicion of planning an attack on a police station.

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

On the run

National defense spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yerima said Yusuf had escaped Maiduguri late on Wednesday after his compound was shelled but said the security forces were on his trail.

"We have his picture, we have his details and the long arm of the law will catch up with him," Yerima told a news conference in the capital Abuja.

"As from tomorrow there will be a show of force in the affected areas. That is, the military will come out … and assure civilians that everything is in place to protect them."

Residents in Maiduguri said they were still too afraid to venture out despite assurances from the authorities.

"This city is like a battlefield," local journalist Muhammed Yakubu told Reuters.

"We still hear gunshots in the railway area which is the operational base of Boko Haram. The area is surrounded by the military and police and shelling is still going on, although the leader was able to escape with some followers yesterday."

Women and children freed

Police spokesman in Maiduguri Isa Azare told AFP that 180 women and children "kidnapped" from parts of the country’s north by the extremists had been rescued and would be reunited with their families.

Sect members say their wives should not be seen by other men and their children should receive only a Koranic education.

The women and children appeared to have been moved to a compound by sect members when the fighting began. Some told the BBC they had been held for six days, living on dates and water.

At least 3,000 residents were displaced, although many later returned to their homes.

The Taliban emerged in 2002 in Maiduguri before setting up a camp on the border with Niger, from where they launched a series of attacks on the police.

The leadership has previously said it intends to lead an armed insurrection and rid the society of "immorality" and "infidelity."

Police sources said nationals from Niger and possibly Chad had fought alongside the Nigerian militants during the clashes this week.