Saturday, January 28, 2012
Nigerian troops killed 11 Boko Haram Islamists during a shootout Saturday in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, a stronghold of the group blamed for more than 200 deaths this year, the army said. A spokesman for the special military squad set up to crack down on Boko Haram confirmed the incident, and said no soldiers were hurt.
The operation came in response to a series of increasingly brazen attacks by Boko Haram that have tipped Nigeria into a security crisis. “Today, in an exchange of fire during a cordon-and-search operation conducted by the JTF, 11 Boko Haram members were killed,” Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Mohammed told AFP by telephone, referring to the army’s Joint Task Force unit.
Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, has been hit hard by the Boko Haram insurgency,and was placed under a state of emergency on December 31 by President Goodluck Jonathan. The last reported clash between troops and Boko Haram in the city came on January 17, when suspected sect members opened fire on a military checkpoint.Three Islamists were killed in the ensuing gunfight, according to a JTF account.
The Islamists have in recent days struck further west, notably in Nigeria’s second city of Kano, where the group claimed a January 20 coordinated attack that killed at least 185. Security forces in Africa’s most populous nation and top oil producer have struggled to contain the Boko Haram menace. The insurgents seem to be able to strike at will in a country divided between a mainly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.
In Kano on Friday evening gunmen
suspected to be from Boko Haram killed at least one officer after opening fire on a police station, police said. The attack came at the start of a night-time curfew that has been in effect in the northern city since the January 20 assault that killed 185 people. Until those attacks, Kano had escaped the worst of Boko Haram’s attacks, and the daring, coordinated assaults that primarily targeted police stations in a major city highlighted the group’s renewed strength.
Boko Haram’s specific aims have largely remained unclear. It has previously said that it wants to
create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s deeply impoverished mainly Muslim north, and has charged the government with harassing Muslims and raiding Islamic schools.
The group was also blamed for coordinated attacks on Christmas Day, the most deadly at a Catholic Church near the capital Abuja, where at least 44 people were killed. But the group’s victims have also included scores of Muslims. Top Nigerian politicians have denied that the Boko Haram insurgency is being fuelled by religious tensions, linking the group to like-minded external Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda.
Many analysts however doubt the strength of those links and say Boko Haram remains focused on a domestic agenda and is boosting its strength by exploiting religious tension within Nigeria. The group launched an uprising in 2009 that was put down by a brutal military assault. It fell dormant for about a year before re-emerging in 2010.
The purported head of Boko Haram, Abubakar Muhammad Shekau, threatened more violence in an audio recording recently posted on YouTube. He denied that the sect targets civilians and accused the government of torturing and illegally detaining Boko Haram members. Shekau has been seen by some as more eager to resort to violence than his predecessor, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed by security forces in 2009