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NIGERIA: Plateau state clamps down on Islamic militants

KANO, NORTHERN NIGERIA, 1 January 2004 (IRIN) - Authorities in Plateau State, northern Nigeria, have banned a radical Muslim group while in neighbouring Yobe State, security forces have been deployed to quash recent anti-police violence caused by a little known Muslim sect, officials said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Plateau State governor ordered the ban of the Council of Ulamma, or the Muslim Council of Elders, on grounds that the group preaches religious hatred and intolerance. The Council is an authoritative religious body in the state and influences affairs concerning the Muslim community.

The ban came one day after the council took out newspaper adverts accusing the state authorities of an anti-Muslim bias. This accusation stemmed from a radi by Plateau State security forces on a compound in the state capital, Jos, believed to be the base of an extremists Islamic group, known as the Maitatsine sect.

During the 18 December raid, four people were killed and more than 120 were arrested. According to authorities, most of those detained have since been released.

Plateau State spokesman Dauda Lama said the authorities banned the radical group to pre-empt religious clashes. He said the authorities were determined not to see a repeat of sectarian violence in September 2001 in which more than 1,000 people died in Christian-Muslim clashes.

The authorities hope the ban will be a blow to both Ulamma and the Maitatsine sect which are ideologically close, Lama said.

"In fact, their intolerance towards other Moslems and outright hostility to non-Moslems is hardly in doubt," said Lamba.

In the 1980s, the Maitatsine sect was responsible for a series of outbreaks of religious violence across northern Nigeria in which thousands of people died. The group was eventually subdued with the intervention of the military after they overran the police in the northern cities of Kano, Maiduguri and Yola.

In neighbouring Yobe State, the authorities beefed security by deploying anti-riot squads to quash the activities of a local radical Muslim group which in the past week has sacked two police stations and taken over a primary school which they renamed 'Afghanistan'.

Police spokesman Femi Oyeleye said that since Tuesday scores of policemen had been deployed in the remote districts of Geidam and Kanamma, about 200 kilometres from Yobe state capital Damaturu, to contain the sect.

Residents said more than 200 members of the sect attacked two police stations _ one in Geidam and another in Kanamma _ last week, killing a policeman and taking away arms and ammunition.

Police officials declined to give details of casualties, but confirmed there had been violent disturbances involving an extremist Muslim group in the area.

“Latest signals coming from headquarters have authorised that action should be taken against them,” Oyeleye told IRIN.

Not much is known about the group, but during the recent Ramadan fast they distributed pamphlets accusing state
governor Abba Ibrahim of not following the dictates of Shari’ah, the Islamic legal code, the residents said.

Residents in Yobe state said some of the radical Muslim leaders appeared to be former university students and graduates. They have drawn many followers from the unemployed since moving into the area from neighbouring Borno State in October.

Yobe is one of a dozen states in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north that have adopted the strict Islamic code in the past four years. It approved punishments including amputation of limbs for stealing, public flogging for drinking alcohol and stoning to death for adultery.

The introduction of the Shari’ah code has increased tension between Muslims and Christians – who are in the majority in southern Nigeria. Thousands of people have died in repeated bouts of sectarian violence that have erupted in the last four

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance

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