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Nigeria says routed Islamic rebels; clashes go on
Thu Jul 30, 2009 5:48am EDT
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By Ibrahim Mshelizza
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Security forces in northern Nigeria exchanged gunfire on Thursday with the remnants of an Islamic sect behind unrest which has killed more than 180 people, but the authorities said they had routed the rebels.
Bursts of gunfire rang out in the northern city of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, where the army on Tuesday shelled parts of a compound belonging to Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the militant Boko Haram sect.
Soldiers have been going door to door and military helicopters hovered above the city to help track down Yusuf's followers. A police station was torched late on Wednesday and local residents said they were still too afraid to venture out.
"Security personnel have succeeded in dislodging the militants and I urge everyone to go about their normal duties," Borno state governor Ali Modu Sheriff said on state radio.
"The house-to-house search is still going on and anybody that harbors them will be dealt with according to the law."
The violence erupted when members of Boko Haram, which wants a wider adoption of Islamic sharia 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, have since attacked churches, police stations, prisons and government buildings in rioting which spread across several states in northern Nigeria.
Yusuf's whereabouts are not known.
President Umaru Yar'Adua said intelligence agencies had been tracking the group, sometimes referred to as the "Nigerian Taliban," for years and that its members were procuring arms and learning to make bombs to force their views on Nigerians.
He ordered the security forces to take all necessary action to "contain them once and for all."
Police in Maiduguri said the security forces had killed 90 sect members on Monday alone. Eight police officers, three prison officials and two soldiers were also killed.
In neighboring Yobe state, police said they had recovered the bodies of 33 sect members after a gun battle near the town of Potiskum on Wednesday. More than 50 people were killed in the initial fighting in Bauchi on Sunday.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sinful" in the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria, is loosely modeled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
Police said they freed 95 women and children on Wednesday being held by the sect in Maiduguri. Its members believe their wives should not be seen by other men and their children should receive only a Koranic education. Continued...
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