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Nigerian militant leader shot in police custody
Thu Jul 30, 2009 9:49pm EDT
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By Ibrahim Mshelizza
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - The leader of a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria was shot dead in police custody late on Thursday after days of clashes between his followers and the security forces killed hundreds of people.
Militant preacher Mohammed Yusuf, 39, whose Boko Haram sect wants a wider adoption of sharia (Islamic law) across Africa's most populous nation, was captured after a manhunt involving military helicopters, soldiers and armed police.
A Reuters reporter and other local journalists saw Yusuf at a military barracks in the northern city of Maiduguri after his capture. He had no visible injuries and was standing up. He was then transferred to the city police headquarters where he died.
"He has been killed. You can come and see his body at the state police command headquarters," said Isa Azare, spokesman for the police command in Maiduguri.
Azare gave no explanation for Yusuf's death, which New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned as a "shocking" extrajudicial killing . Other police officials were quoted by local media as saying he had died in a shoot-out while trying to escape.
A BBC correspondent said a video shown to officials and journalists showed Yusuf confessing and saying he regretted his actions. "The next moment on the video footage he was seen shot...They showed his body," the correspondent said.
The security forces have fought gunbattles in flashpoints across northern Nigeria over the past five days to crush an uprising by members of Boko Haram.
Violence broke out on Sunday when members of the group -- loosely modeled 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.
President Umaru Yar'Adua has said the group was procuring arms and learning to make bombs in order to impose its ideology on Nigerians by force. He has ordered the security forces to do everything necessary to contain the sect.
DEATH TOLL EXPECTED TO RISE
Around a dozen soldiers, police officers and prison officials are among the hundreds killed in the unrest, while the remainder of the dead largely consist of suspected Boko Haram followers, according to police.
National defense spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yerima said there would be a military "show of force" on Friday to reassure civilians that they would be protected.
Eric Guttschuss, Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters: "The extrajudicial killing of Mr. Yusuf in police custody is a shocking example of the brazen contempt by the Nigerian police for the rule of law."
He said all criminal suspects had a right to due process, and Nigerian authorities must investigate the killing and hold those responsible for it accountable.
Yusuf's death also deprives intelligence agencies of the opportunity to question him about possible links to other militant groups outside Nigeria. Continued...
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