Nigerian troops are increasing patrols in the north to clamp down on Islamic militants who have carried out bombings and told Christians to leave the region, an army spokesman said.
The army has deployed two brigades to areas in and around the states of Plateau and Borno, where the Boko Haram group has carried out most of its attacks in recent months, army spokesman Brigadier-General Ralph Isa said today by telephone from Abuja, the capital.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in some northern regions of Africa’s top oil producer on Dec. 31 and set up a special counterterrorism unit within the armed forces after attacks left at least 43 people dead and 73 wounded in a Christmas day bombing of a church near Abuja. Isa said that so far Christians were not reacting to Boko Haram’s ultimatum yesterday to quit the region within three days.
“I have not seen anyone move away,” he said. “Patrols are on and life goes on normally.”
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin,” says it’s fighting to establish sharia law. A Taliban-inspired group, it has carried out a series of raids and bombings in the north and Abuja. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of more than 160 million people, is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
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The group follows a spiritual leader, Imam Shekau, and has an 18-member Shura, or council, according to Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, which is based in the northern city of Kaduna.
“Citizens are afraid of cooperating with the government out of fear that they will be targeted by the group,” he said today by phone. “The Nigerian police have not, over the years, been well trained or equipped in handling terrorism issues of this kind due to the corruption in the service.”
Boko Haram, in an e-mailed statement yesterday, urged Muslims to come to the north and told Christians to leave northern Nigeria within three days.
Most Christians in northern Nigeria were born there and have no place to go, Sani said today by phone.
“For any group to tell Christians in northern Nigeria to move out is farce because you have indigenous northerners who are Christians; where can they go to?” Sani said. “But the fact remains the threat is credible and the group can launch attacks in churches.”
At least 72 people have been killed in fighting since Dec. 22 between Nigerian security forces and the militant group in the northeastern city of Damaturu, according to the government.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a suicide car-bomb attack on the United Nations building in the capital on Aug. 26 that killed 25 people.
“The strategy by the group is simply to draw the larger Muslim and Christian population into a civil war,” Sani said. “These are people who are insisting they want an Islamic rule in the whole of the country.”
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