Fears of ‘Taliban’ resurgence in Nigeria

2010-07-16 10:10

The 32-year-old perfume seller is ready for holy war but he is

waiting for orders from his leader, an Islamist believed killed in an uprising

in northern Nigeria nearly a year ago.

Yerima Faltaye said as he sold his goods on the streets in the city

of Maiduguri: “What happens in the next few weeks depends on the directives our

leaders send to us. Once the directive comes, nothing can stop us.”

Late July marks one year since an uprising by an Islamist sect in

Nigeria’s north that left more than 800 dead and spread across four states, and

there are fears the so-called Nigerian Taliban is reforming to strike

again.

The uprising shocked the country, where roughly half of the 150

million population is Muslim and a dozen of the nation’s 36 states have

implemented sharia law, though it is selectively applied.

As a result, this city, the centre of the uprising, resembles a

police state ahead of the July 26 anniversary.

A dozen vans with gun-toting police escorted by a siren-blaring

armoured car regularly rumble through the dusty streets.

Tensions have been stoked by the release of video clips of one of

the Islamist leaders believed killed, Abubakar Shekau, in which he threatens to

“avenge the killings of our brethren.”

A message attributed to him was also posted on a website this week,

according to a US-based monitoring group, in which he threatens the United

States and pays tribute to al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq.

The sect, called Boko Haram (“Western education is sin”), launched

the insurrection last year from an enclave in Maiduguri in a doomed bid to

establish an Islamic state.

Nigerian police and troops crushed the uprising after four days of

street battles that left more than 800 dead, mostly sect members, including the

group’s leader Mohammed Yusuf.

Shekau, the man now appearing on video, was his deputy and had been

thought killed, as well. Police still maintain that Shekau is dead and dismiss

the video clips as digital mock-ups.

In one video clip being circulated on mobile phones, Shekau is clad

in military camouflage and wears a white turban. He sits between two AK-47

rifles and claims to be the new sect leader.

The 30-minute clip shows scores of masked young men conducting

military exercises at an undisclosed desert location.

He said: “We will definitely avenge the killings of our brethren,

including Mohammed Yusuf. Jihad has just begun in Nigeria. What happened was

only the prelude, the actual show has not started yet.”

In another clip, Shekau is flanked by two masked men in military

camouflage brandishing Kalashnikov rifles. His speech is interrupted by a

ringing cell phone and a wailing baby.

Shekau said: “Most of our fighters escaped the fighting and are

still around and are ready to fight as ever.”

Borno state police chief Ibrahim Abdu said rumours the sect was

readying to mark the rebellion anniversary have pushed security forces “to be on

the watch-out for the members of the group”.

Hundreds of anti-riot police reinforcements have been deployed in

the city, Abdu said, while more intelligence personnel have been called

in.

But that has only heightened tension among Maiduguri

residents.

Maiduguri resident Mohammed Goni said: “The deployment of more

police in the city and the daily patrols have only increased residents’

apprehension of the possible re-emergence of Boko Haram.”

Ibrahim Mala, a repentant sect member-turned-grocer at Maiduguri’s

main market, claimed to know where Shekau is hiding.

He said: “He escaped the fighting and is now hiding in the desert

between Chad and Sudan.”

Police guard the sect’s former headquarters reduced to rubble by

Nigerian troops during last year’s clashes.

A police officer said: “Two weeks ago a member of the sect came

here to pray for the soul of Mohammed Yusuf, who he said was his spiritual

leader and a divine fighter.”

But a university lecturer who had contact with the sect’s

leadership while doing research on the group dismissed Shekau’s threats.

Ahmad Baba Tela, a linguistics professor at University of

Maiduguri, said: “Shekau lacks the power of persuasion, the oratory and maturity

which fetched Mohammed Yusuf followers.”

 

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