Nigeria sect leader shot dead

July 31, 2009 12:00 am

, MAIDUGURI, Jul 31 – A Nigerian Islamist sect leader was shot dead following his capture Thursday, after troops put down a five-day uprising that left hundreds dead.

Mohammed Yusuf, 39, leader of a Nigerian self-styled Taliban sect was captured earlier in the day from a house in the northeastern city of Maiduguri following days of deadly clashes between his followers and security forces.

"Mohammed Yusuf was killed by security forces in a shootout while trying to escape," Moses Anegbode, police Assistant Inspector-General for the northeastern Nigeria told BRTV state television.

"I can confirm that has been killed and the body is with us," he said.

An AFP journalist saw his naked, bullet-riddled body lying on the grounds of the police headquarters among two dozen others brought in earlier from parts of the city.

Earlier a policeman told AFP Yusuf had "pleaded for mercy and forgiveness before he was shot."

State television footage shown earlier to officials and journalists at a government office showed jubilant police celebrating around the body.

Nigerian forces on Thursday put the extremists to flight after an all-out assault on their northern stronghold to crush the rebellion.

Troops raided the Islamists headquarters in the northern city of Maiduguri, killing some 200 followers of the self-styled Taliban sect including its deputy leader.

"The leader of the Taliban had been captured by the military who raided a house where he was hiding, close to his former residence that was destroyed" an army officer had told reporters in the Borno state capital earlier Thursday.

Calm returned to the city and resident began emerging from their homes, although security remained tight.

"The military is in control," defence spokesman colonel Mohammed Yerima told reporters in the federal capital Abuja.

Maiduguri had seen the worst of the unrest in northern Nigeria, which started on Sunday in nearby Bauchi state.

At least 600 people were killed in the five days of clashes between security forces and militants in Borno and three other northern states, according to figures from police and witnesses.

Police spokesman in Maiduguri Isa Azare told AFP that 180 women and children "kidnapped" from parts of the country’s north by the extremists had been rescued and would be reunited with their families.

Troops shelled the extremist sect’s base in Maiduguri throughout the night, then gunned down followers as they tried to flee in the morning, witnesses and security sources said.

Yusuf’s deputy, Abubakar Shekau was killed along with 200 followers "while trying to escape," from a district of Maiduguri, police officer said earlier.

An AFP reporter saw dozens of bodies strewn on the grounds leading to Bayan Quarters, the Taliban base and epicentre of Wednesday’s bloodbath.

A source at a Maiduguri hospital said "the corpses are countless.

"Some of them are still lying in the streets and around the police headquarters," the source said.

"Our hospital is full to capacity … Some of the patients who are injured from the fighting are lying on the floor of the hospital for lack of space".

President Yar’Adua had ordered the raid to crush the Talibans "once and for all."

Around 1,000 troop reinforcements had been sent into Maiduguri overnight Wednesday.

At one stage Wednesday night, the Taliban – also known as the Boko Haram – set fire to a police station.

Security forces however later got the upper hand over the militants, some of whom had changed their appearance in a bid to escape.

"We spotted dozens of members of Boko Haram fleeing. They stopped by briefly, shaved their hair and beard and discarded their jellabiyah (white arabic caftans) for tee-shirts and jeans," said local resident Hamad Bulunkutu.

Police sources said at least 3,000 residents were displaced, although many later returned to their homes.

The Taliban emerged in 2002 in Maiduguri before setting up a camp on the border with Niger, from where they launched a series of attacks on the police.

Officials say they have been in existence since 1995 under different names.

The leadership has previously said it intended to lead an armed insurrection and rid the society of "immorality" and "infidelity".

Police sources said nationals from Niger and possibly Chad had fought alongside the Nigerian militants during the clashes this week.

The unrest is the deadliest in Nigeria since November last year when human rights groups say up to 700 were killed in the central city of Jos in direct clashes between Muslims and Christians.


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