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In Nigeria, trapped between Islamist radicals and security forces


The armed men dragged Musa Muhammad out of his house and ordered him to lie face down on the ground. Then they grabbed his son. After asking his name, the men issued their judgment. “I heard three gunshots — pop, pop, pop,” Muhammad recalled, his voice trembling, his fingers in the shape of a pistol. “My son was dead, killed in front of me.”

His assailants were not the radical Islamists who have brutalized this town. They were government security forces sent to protect the residents.


In the epicenter of one of Africa's most violent religious extremist movements, civilians are caught in a guerrilla conflict that has shattered families and communal relationships. The Boko Haram, a homegrown group with suspected ties to al-Qaeda, is assassinating people nearly every day, targeting Christians, soldiers, police, even astrologers as it seeks to weaken the ­Western-allied government and install Islamic ­sharia law in this nation.


But the security forces have also carried out extrajudicial killings, imprisoned hundreds on flimsy grounds, looted and burned shops and houses, according to victims, local officials and human rights activists.


“We are trapped in between the Boko Haram and the security forces,” said Hauwa Yerima, a human rights activist. “Life has become so difficult for us in Maiduguri.”


She and Muhammad asked that their grandfathers’ last names be used instead of their surnames because they feared reprisals by the military or police. People here often have multiple surnames.


Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the security units, which are known as the Joint Military Task Force or JTF, denied the allegations. He said that soldiers follow appropriate rules of engagement and that there “has not been any established case of extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions or harassment by the JTF forces.”


This sprawling northeastern town is the birthplace and stronghold of the Boko Haram. From here, what began as a nonviolent Islamist uprising fueled by poverty, inequality and government corruption in 2002 has grown into a shadowy insurgency that U.S. and Western officials say has increasing connections to ­al-Qaeda affiliates. The militia has also sought to exploit long-standing tensions between Muslims and Christians in the northern part of this oil-rich nation of 160 million.


But as Boko Haram becomes more lethal, the actions by the security forces could harm their efforts to gather vital intelligence to thwart the extremists, local officials said. The group has no shortage of supporters here, even as their attacks have intensified in recent months.


“In a guerrilla war, you need the help of the local population. But the security forces are alienating the people,” said Muhammad Abdullahi, the provincial director of religious affairs. “They are making their jobs more difficult for themselves.”


Two days earlier, a soldier shot and injured one of Abdullahi’s co-workers in the abdomen as he approached a checkpoint.


On that fall afternoon in Musa Muhammad’s neighborhood, Boko Haram militants ambushed and killed two soldiers on a nearby street. The security forces flooded in, rounding up youths, searching houses and firing guns in the air. They accused residents of being Boko Haram loyalists and harboring members. After the soldiers allowed Muhammad to stand up, he saw several bodies lying near a wall, he recalled.


The corpse of his 29-year-old son, who owned a small store, had been thrown on top.


Following a government crackdown in 2009, Boko Haram clashed with security forces in Maiduguri, attacking police stations. That same year, its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed while in police custody, cementing the metamorphosis into a violent movement. Since 2010, the extremists have bombed churches, mosques, banks, government and U.N. buildings, and even schools, killing more than 1,500 people.



The nature of violence

The militia’s ambitions and brutality appear to be growing. Boko Haram, whose name roughly means “Western education is a sin,” killed more than 815 people in the first nine months of 2012, more than 2010 and 2011 combined, according to Human Rights Watch. The latest victims died Friday, when suspected militants attacked a village near here, killing at least 15 people, including women and children, slitting many of their throats.


Once focused on northeastern Nigeria, the group has widened its attacks across the north. Suicide bombings, a rarity in West Africa, have become more common. Among its new targets are cellphone towers and mobile phone company offices, which the militia accuses of aiding government security agencies monitoring its members.


The group also appears to be seeking a bigger role in global jihad. Last month, its leader, Abubakar Shekau, in a propaganda video shown on extremist Web sites, expressed solidarity with al-Qaeda and its affiliates and threatened the United States, which in June placed him on its list of global terrorists.


In a telephone interview, a senior Boko Haram commander said some fighters have traveled to northern Mali, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia to train in jihadist camps and then returned to Nigeria. Others have remained in those countries to fight alongside militant groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the network’s West and North Africa affiliate and one of three groups controlling northern Mali, said the commander, who used his nom de guerre, Abu Mariam.


A more violent splinter faction has also emerged within Boko Haram this year. Known as Ansaru, its fighters recently took responsibility for the kidnapping of a French engineer this month near Nigeria’s border with Niger, where the militia has also infiltrated.


“The Muslim Ummah are unified against fighting the forces of the nonbelievers,” said Abu Mariam, using the Arabic word for “nation.” “Anytime, anywhere, if we have the opportunity to target our enemies, we will attack.”

In some villages around Maiduguri, the militants have imposed strict Islamic sharia law, residents said. They have banned smoking and alcohol, as well as playing soccer and dara, a local version of chess, deeming them un-Islamic. Women have been ordered to wear veils.


In Maiduguri, assassins on bikes and motorcycles move openly, targeting people in daylight. By 7 p.m., most streets are deserted. Residents lock themselves in, praying that neither the militants nor the security forces will turn up at their door.


Eight months ago, Boko Haram militants killed a close friend and neighbor of Babakyari Adam. They were both astrologers. “They say what we are doing is against Islam,” said Adam, 48. “They say we are sorcerers.”


He fled Maiduguri but six weeks ago returned to be with his family. Today, he rarely steps outside his house. “I am afraid the Boko Haram will come back and kill me if they know I am in town,” Adam said.


Widening divisions

In 2011, most attacks targeted Muslims aligned with the government. But attacks against Christians have risen since January. This year, there have been at least 37 attacks against churches and 21 targeting mosques, according to a project by the think tank Council on Foreign Relations that tracks political violence in Nigeria.


Inside a desolate church, only 45 worshipers attended Christmas service. Last year, radical Islamists hurled grenades into the compound, killing a guard. In April, they murdered the reverend. Once numbering in the thousands, much of the congregation has fled Maiduguri.


The church is in a neighborhood dubbed “Tora Bora,” after Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Afghanistan, because it is a Boko Haram stronghold. On this holy day, heavily armed soldiers peered from behind sandbags, searching everyone who entered for bombs and weapons.


The Islamists have killed many of the congregants’ relatives, including the husband of Pipi Alfas’s niece. She was expecting a baby in December.

“What will a child without a father do?” Alfas asked. “We are living in fear.”

Maiduguri, like other northern areas, has experienced spasms of religious and ethnic violence over the years. But Christians and Muslims have, for the most part, coexisted peacefully here for decades. They attended the same schools. Muslims married Christians; to this day, many families are composed of followers of both religions. Today, Christians and Muslims are becoming more divided, leaders of both communities said this week.


“Nowadays, you don’t know who Boko Haram is among the people,” said Ishrah Garba, the pastor of Alfas’s church, the Church of Christ in Nigeria. “We have to be careful.”


He no longer wears his clerical collar in town, hiding his religion from assassins.


“At times, we hear them say, ‘We will kill every Christian in the area, so that the neighborhood will be ours,’ ” said Alfas, referring to her Muslim neighbors, whom she rarely speaks to anymore.


Yerima, the human rights activist, recalled how she sent food during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim religious festival, to a Christian neighbor, a ritual she has done for the past two decades. This year, the neighbor refused to accept the food.


When asked why the militia is killing Christians, Abu Mariam dismissed the question with his own.


“Why is the West killing Muslims? They have attacked Muslims in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Pakistan with drones. They are killing Muslims everywhere with drones,” he said. “Why ask about the Christians? Are they the only human beings?”


‘Who can I complain to?’

The security forces have killed almost as many people as Boko Haram has, according to Human Rights Watch. They also have detained numerous victims without charges or trials, human rights activists say.


“They are worse than the enemy,” said Murtalla Muhammed, a lecturer at the University of Maiduguri. “The whole image of the military has gone down here. They are seen as brutal.”


The victims included the brother of Umar Muhammad, a 33-year-old technician who is not related to Musa. Soldiers accused him of being part of Boko Haram and interrogated him. He had no access to a lawyer. Then, his brother said, he was beaten to death in custody.


The day after his son was killed, Musa Muhammad went to the morgue to pick up the body. One of the bullets has been shot point blank into his neck, he said.


“Who can I complain to?” Muhammad asked. “Now, we fear both Boko Haram and the security forces.”


He was too traumatized, he said, to wash his son’s body before burial as Muslim customs dictate. 














"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins









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You know this is what I don't understand.  Why you wanna be a muslim, if its muslims that is destroying your village, killing your family and torturing YOU?  What is the prize in praising allah?  If allah is NOT there to help you?  I have been strugglin with this question since my father was active in Islam.  I don't understand.  And so I always recommend brothas to READ world HISTORY from an assortment of perspectives.....before dedicating themselves to a religion that was the FIRST to enslave your people including the FIRST to castrate African male captives forcing many of them into military while others i.e. enunchs guard the sex harems as well as degrade and mutilate capture African  women and lastly ripped away African children's childhood and reducing them to sex slaves-why would ANYONE want to worship a God that allows that.  Fastforward into modern is STILL going on!!!!  So I am not surprised that Africa is riddled with those who are brainwashed enough to kill their OWN people.  All in the name of God.  Tragic.  My disclaimer is I am neither Christian or Muslim....and I STILL can't wrap my brain around this form of genocide of one's culture.  Just can't.  I know one thing however...this MAN-MADE religious dogma is NOT working....what is doing is KILLING!!!  But!

There are so many red flags in this story its unreal.


The truth is that many (here and elsewhere) don't really care one way or another about what's going on in Africa (anywhere on the continent).


The primary interest only in things that appear to reinforce a stylized and romanticized view of how Black people should approach liberation. 


The truth of the situation represents a problem to that romanticized view, so its dismissed and things (like the thread title) are repeated.


  Hey I know the comment was not for me,.,,,but!  Sorry I don't see any romanticized in killing your OWN people based on a religious belief.  The Boko Haram is an extremist  And the nigerian govt agency is also tied to islam in some  All the people living there just wanna  Regardless of what  People just wanna live their lives on their OWN terms.  So I don't see the romanticism in that.  That's basic.  And the real TRUTH.  People CARE about living their lives fully...that's all.   However, extremist groups such as these have been instrumental in destroying their own people cuz they reject the so-called western thought.  They want no outside thoughts.  Just obedience.  They wanna continue to live in a 7th century mentality.  They wanna forced this dogma on people who just want to have their OWN right to believe in whatever type of "God" of their choosing. 


Nigeria is already over 50% muslim.  So why do "extremtists like this" think that they have a RIGHT to shove their one-sided perspective DOWN somebody else throat.... or die?   Makes no sense.  That is what I call IMMATURE....UNEVOLVED... or Slavery!!!   No where in this do I see any thing "romantic."  Folks are DYING over something subjective.  Women and children don't even have RIGHTS to their OWN life.  And this is 2013!!!!! So again....where is the romanticism in that?  Telling the truth about what is REALLY going on?  Cuz if things are the way some of these groups say they are in terms of being the better "religion"....WHY is there such an immigration to get the HELL outta there?   Plus there is a reason why you can't go in and out Saudi Arabia easy...especially women and children. They don't want it known what they REALLY do to folks.   If the true knowledge [not rheotric or propaganda] of what is REALLY going on in countries like that was publicized globally they would really be deemed inhumane monsters.  


 And lastly....I could say a lot more but I won't cuz it will not make a difference in this discussion.  I'll just REPEAT what I always say:  If anything!  Christianity saved women and children.  It gave women their rights to their OWN bodies and children a CHILDHOOD period to grow into maturity.  Yes the West participated in slavery and guess what?  The slaves won their freedom lest than 500 years later....but!   The slaves of the East are still encroached and brainwashed into thinking that their avenging GOD do not want them to be happy..EVER!  Or that they DO NOT DESERVE to be happy.  They are just there to serve those who DEFINE their worth.  And in ANY human being East or West...that is UNACCEPTABLE and is why this form of psychological mind altered training is placed on them EVERY. TIME by FORCE.... not by "willful" faith.  To me it's a cancer in humankind and if it is NOT caught in will spread ending life as we know it for us ALL. But!  Just sayin 

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