Factbox-What is Nigeria’s violent Islamist sect Boko Haram?

By Reuters Staff
March 16, 2012

(A car burns at the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde )

Nigeria has held its first indirect peace talks with Islamist sect Boko Haram, meeting mediators to discuss a possible ceasefire, political and diplomatic sources have said,

Here are some facts about Boko Haram:

* Boko Haram became active in about 2003 and is concentrated mainly in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna.

* Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria means “Western education is sinful”, is loosely modeled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

* The group considers all who do not follow its strict ideology as infidels, whether they be Christian or Muslim. It demands the adoption of sharia, or Islamic law, across Nigeria.

* Boko Haram followers have prayed in their own mosques in cities including Maiduguri, Kano and Sokoto, and wear long beards and red or black headscarves.

* The group published an ultimatum in January 2012 giving Christians three days to leave northern Nigeria. Since then, attacks in northeastern Nigeria have killed many and hundreds of Christians have fled to the south. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on December 31 in an effort to contain the violence.

* Human Rights Watch said in January that the sect had killed at least 935 people since 2009.

* Jonathan said the violent sect had supporters within his own government and the insecurity the group had created was worse than during the civil war that broke out in 1967 and killed more than a million people.

* In a recent success, Nigeria arrested the purported spokesman for Boko Haram on February 1, known as ‘Abu Qaqa’.

Read the full FACTBOX here.
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