Muslim Extremists Mount Attacks in Northern Nigeria

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Police, military thwart attempt to create 'Taliban State.'
by Obed Minchakpu

DAMATURU, Nigeria, January 6 (Compass) -- Police and military units in the northeastern state of Yobe, Nigeria, ended a violent attempt by Muslim militants to carve out an Islamic Republic there.

Last week, Muslim extremists allegedly affiliated with the Taliban movement in Afghanistan raided eight Nigerian towns and villages attacking police stations, burning buildings and stealing weapons.

Authorities confirmed that two policemen were killed in clashes in which assailants carted off arms and ammunition. Church and government official have not yet determined the number of casualties among Christians. However, they believe hundreds of families have been displaced from Damaturu, Kanamma, Geidam, Yunusari, Toshiya, Dapchi, Babbangida, Bursari and other villages targeted in the attacks.

“At about a few minutes after midnight on Wednesday, the people whom we believe to be Islamic fundamentalists attacked ‘A’ Division police station in Damaturu,” Mr. Fatai Fagbemi, the police assistant inspector general in Damaturu, told Compass on January 1. “A few days back, they had been attacking police stations with a view to reaching the arsenal with arms and ammunitions.

“A police inspector who was with the medical corps was killed by the fanatics. And early this morning, we trailed the fanatics. Along Maiduguri road, near Jakana village, we came across a vehicle they snatched from the police and abandoned on the way.”

The car contained shotguns, rifles, two boxes of ammunition and tear gas canisters, according to Fagbemi. Two members of the Islamic group were arrested with weapons, he said, and the corpse of an extremist killed in a counter-offensive was recovered and deposited in the local mortuary.

The police officer declined to discuss the number of Christians killed by the fanatics. “This is a very serious, sensitive, and dangerous issue,” Fagbemi said. “We cannot discuss this in the media. Religion is a volatile issue that calls for caution. Please do not report the religious angle of it.”

Muslim fundamentalists calling themselves the “Hijrah (Migration) Movement” established a base near Nigeria’s border with the Niger Republic over a year ago. Police sources said the fundamentalists pledged their loyalty to the leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban, Mullah Umar. The group has since become known as “Nigeria’s Talibans.”

They designated their base as an “Islamic state” and distributed leaflets stating that they intended to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. They also vowed to kill all non-Muslims and declared a holy Islamic war on Christians and the national government.

Referring to last week’s attack, Governor Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim told a press conference that the “Nigerian government is up to the task to deal decisively with any threat to national security.”

Ibrahim, a Muslim, described the militants as “anarchists and trouble makers.” “They will never succeed in their schemes. We shall crush them,” he added.

Reports from BBC correspondent Mato Adamu in Yobe indicated that the Islamic group gained minimal support among Muslims. Last week’s clashes have not led to increased tensions with the large Christian minority in the area, he said.

Twelve state governments in the Muslim-dominated north of the country, including Yobe, have introduced Islamic sharia law since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999. The Islamic legal system has imposed a harsh religious atmosphere and sparked persecution against the minority Christian population in these states, according to sources in the country.

Incessant religious conflict, pitching Muslims and Christians against each other, has plagued the country since the imposition of sharia, claiming between 10,000 and 50,000 casualties, according to estimates.