Nigerian air force joins bid to contain Islamist sect

October 20, 2010

nigeria 1Nigeria’s security services are beefing up efforts to contain the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in the remote north, launching joint army and police exercises and using attack helicopters to help with patrols.

Army Chief of Staff Azubuike Ihejirika, appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan just over a month ago, said on Tuesday he had instructed the security forces to be at the ready after a string of attacks blamed on the  sect.

(Photo: Bodies lay on the streets in Maiduguri after uprising by Boko Haram in Nothern Nigeria, July 31, 2009/Aminuo Abubacar)

The group, which wants sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation, launched an uprising in the city of Maiduguri last year which led to days of gun battles with the security forces in which hundreds died.

Suspected Boko Haram members burned down a police station in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, last week, and have been blamed for the targeted killings of police officers, politicians and traditional leaders in recent weeks.

The unrest has raised fears of a repeat of last year’s uprising, which began with attacks on police stations, government offices, prisons and schools.

Nigeria, a vast nation of more than 140 million people, is roughly equally divided between Christians and Muslims. The vast majority of the Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, do not espouse Boko Haram’s views. Its followers eschew the use of Western-made goods and are sometimes referred to as the “Nigerian Taliban” for their long beards and turbans. But there is no published evidence of any links with foreign groups.

Read the full story by Ibrahim Mshelizza here. See also an earlier timeline on ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria.

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