Sunday, December 30, 2012


In Nigeria, Trapped between Islamist Radicals and Security Forces
By Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post, December 30, 2012
"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. ... '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. ... 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 as Muslim customs dictate."

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