Nigerian forces hunt killers of 65 in co-ordinated attack


KANO – Nigerian security forces said yesterday they were searching for Islamist militants behind a co-ordinated attack in the north that killed at least 65 people, as residents still in shock demanded the government do more to protect them.

The Boko Haram Islamist sect has claimed responsibility for multiple gun and bomb attacks in the city of Damaturu on Friday in its deadliest attack yet. It left bodies littering the streets and reduced police stations, churches and mosques to smouldering rubble.

“We are ready for them, we are going to comb every place in the state to until we find and deal with them. Our men are ready,” said Suleiman Lawal, police commissioner for Yobe state, of which Damaturu is the capital.

He gave the official death toll as 53. An emergency relief agency that counted bodies in the morgues gave a toll of 65 – 63 from the Damaturu attack and another two from a strike on a neighbouring village, Potiskum.

Residents still in shock questioned how the gunmen were able to take over the city and wreak havoc with such apparent ease.

“I am a Muslim but what is happening in Nigeria now is unacceptable. President Jonathan and his security chiefs should take control of the situation. We are tired of these terrorist acts,” said Abdulgafar Bello (48) a market trader.

The UN Security Council overnight “condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that occurred in Damaturu and Potiskum”, and urged global “measures to combat terrorism”.

Boko Haram is growing in sophistication. The increasing audacity and deadliness of its attacks, two of which stuck the capital Abuja this year, are becoming a major security headache for Mr Jonathan’s administration.

Friday’s violence also included bomb attacks in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the main base of the group, whose name means “western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a bombing of the UN Nigeria headquarters in Abuja that killed 26 people in August.

The US embassy issued a warning to citizens yesterday to avoid hotels in the Nigerian capital, which it said could be targeted in the next few days. “The US embassy has received information that Boko Haram may plan to attack several locations and hotels in Abuja . . . Targets may include the Nicon Luxury, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Transcorp Hilton Hotel,” it said.

Mr Jonathan rarely comments on frequent attacks in the north, but on Saturday he said he had “directed security agencies to ensure the arrest of perpetrators of these heinous acts, and assure Nigerians that all necessary will be done to ensure safety of lives”.

Many Nigerians were unimpressed. “How can the president use the same cliche to address another mass murder of Nigerians he swore an oath to protect? Why not declare war on Boko Haram? What is wrong with his executive powers? What is wrong with Nigeria?” wrote a blogger on the website of Nigeria’s This Daynewspaper. But efforts to make war on Boko Haram have done little to quell insurgency – heavy-handed police tactics in the remote northeast have radicalised youths.

Ultimately, Nigeria may have to address the poverty and sense of alienation in the remote, semi-arid north, which feels increasingly left out of the economic growth enjoyed by the oil-rich south.

A state-sponsored committee in September urged establishing a dialogue with Boko Haram, an idea reiterated yesterday by the governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima. “Governor Kashim . . . calls on the aggrieved sectors of our society to eschew the violent expressions of their grievances . . . and dialogue with the government,” he said.

Residents said life was returning to normal in Damaturu, as Muslims slaughtered sheep to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival of sacrifice. Nigeria, a country of 150 million people split between Christians and Muslims, is mostly peaceful, but militancy is growing in the north and violence in the ethnically and religiously mixed “middle belt”. – (Reuters)