Nigerian troops clash with Islamists

2012-01-07 16:33

Kano - Hundreds of people fled their homes in northeast Nigeria on Saturday after deadly all-night gun battles between Islamists and security forces amid an escalation in violence.

The latest clashes with the Islamist sect Boko Haram came amid growing fears of widespread religious violence in Africa's most populous nation, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

On Friday night, 10 people were gunned down in a church in Yola - the latest such attack in an escalating wave of violence since Christmas Day bombings of churches and other targets killed scores of people.

The streets of Potiskum town elsewhere in the northeast emptied Saturday after fierce shoot-outs between the Boko Haram gunmen and police.

A policeman and a civilian were killed when the gunmen robbed three banks, according to residents.

About 30 people have been killed in attacks targetting Christians in two days in northern Nigeria.

Police said after the overnight fighting in Potiskum, where the Islamists attacked its headquarters and robbed and burnt three banks, that a death toll had not yet been determined.

"Our men engaged Boko Haram gunmen in shoot-outs for most of the night, which led to some deaths and injuries," Yobe state police commissioner Lawan Tanko told AFP.

"It is too early to give figures because we are still investigating the incident."

Dozens of Islamists had stormed the town - part of a region placed under emergency rule by President Goodluck Jonathan a week earlier - and launched gun and bomb attacks on police headquarters.

They also threw a bomb into a nearby police barracks but no-one was hurt, said residents.

People in nearby neighbourhoods fled their homes in fear of military raids in the aftermath of the attack, they said.

"Virtually all the residents have fled their homes for fear of attack by soldiers who came to the town this morning," said Idris Bakanike, a resident of the Dogo Tebo area near the police headquarters.

"We are afraid the soldiers will raid and burn our homes like they do in Maiduguri each time Boko Haram attack," said local resident Amiru Umar.

Soldiers in the northeastern city of Maiduguri have been accused of burning homes and shooting residents after attacks by the Islamists, accusing residents of complicity.

Nigeria has been convulsed by a spate of attacks.

A Christian rights activist and a hospital source said 10 men were gunned down in a church on Friday evening in downtown Yola, the capital of the northeastern Adamawa state.

Fears of reprisals

Earlier on Friday, over a dozen other Christians were shot dead in Mubi town in the same state. It was the deadliest single attack in the region in the wake of an ultimatum last Sunday by Islamists for Christians to leave the north.

Gunmen had opened fire on Christians at a house in Mubi in a daytime attack as they mourned the death of a friend shot the night before.

Residents and a relief official reported up to 17 dead, while police put the death toll at 12 the day after up to five other people were killed in the same town.

On Thursday evening, gunmen stormed a church in the northeastern city of Gombe and opened fire as worshippers had their eyes closed in prayer, killing six people, including the pastor's wife.

A purported spokesperson for Islamist group Boko Haram, Abul Qaqa, last Sunday issued a three-day ultimatum for Christians to leave the north.

Boko Haram is a shadowy group believed to have a number of factions with differing aims, including a hard-core Islamist faction.

It launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault which left some 800 people dead.

Since the group re-emerged in 2010, it has been blamed for increasingly sophisticated and deadly attacks, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed 25.

On Christmas Day, a wave of bombings killed 49 people, most of them outside of a Catholic church as services were ending, triggering intense fear and outrage in Africa's largest oil producer.

There have been fears of reprisals from Christians, and Christian leaders have warned they will defend themselves if attacks continue.

Read more on:    boko haram  |  nigeria  |  security  |  west africa

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