Africa

Nigerian police raid Islamic sect, detain hundreds

islamistMINNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Police in the western Nigerian state of Niger have raided an Islamic community and detained hundreds of its members, weeks after an uprising by a radical sect killed almost 800 in the remote northeast.

Niger state police commissioner Mike Zuokumor said officers backed by reinforcements from the capital Abuja had surrounded the compound of the Darul Islam community on the edge of the town of Mokwa early on Saturday.

“We received a series of reports about the activities of the sect from neighboring communities, the local government and the emirate (traditional leader),” Zuokumor said.

“Some of them were expressing apprehension concerning the activities of the group and it is our duty to ensure law and order among the citizens of the state,” he said.

Police and immigration officers were screening about 600 members of the sect who had been detained and taken to a nearby school for questioning, police spokesman Richard Oguche said.

Some of them were believed to have crossed into Nigeria to join Darul Islam from Chad, Cameroon and the country of Niger.

Local journalists said as many as 3,000 people were believed to live in the community. Male members dress in white robes while its women are fully covered in black.

Zuokumor said police had received reports that Darul Islam was forcibly holding women to be the wives of sect members. The arrests were peaceful and no shots were fired.

The leader of the sect, Amrul Bashir Abdullahi, originally from the northern state of Kano, told reporters after being detained that he had lived in Mokwa for 17 years.

“We are not against Western education as we are being accused, but we have our own belief which is not in any way an infringement of the state authorities,” he said.

“We decided to create a camp for ourselves outside the community because of the problems in the larger society. These are problems of corruption, drunkenness, prostitution and so on which Allah forbids,” Abullahi said.

FRUSTRATED YOUTH

islamistZuokumor said police wanted to find out more about the beliefs of Darul Islam and that any members found to be from neighboring countries would be deported. Should investigations uncover evidence that women or children had been forcibly detained, those responsible would be charged, he said.

Africa’s most populous nation is roughly equally divided between Christians and Muslim and more than 200 ethnic groups generally live peacefully side by side. But there have been frequent bouts of religious violence.

Clashes three weeks ago between the security forces and members of a radical Islamic sect called Boko Haram killed close to 800 people in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, more than 800 km (500 miles) away from Niger state.

While the two groups are not known to be directly linked, the authorities suspect they share similar beliefs.

Boko Haram — which means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria — was loosely modeled on Afghanistan’s Taliban movement and wanted sharia, Islamic law, more widely applied across the country.

Armed with machetes, bows and arrows, shotguns and home-made bombs, its members attacked symbols of authority in Maiduguri, including police stations, prisons, government offices and schools during a five-day uprising.

The uprising was put down when the military captured the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who was later shot dead in police detention. International rights groups condemned what they said appeared to be an extra-judicial, execution-style killing.

West African Islam is overwhelmingly moderate but sects such as Boko Haram are able to build a following because acute poverty, unemployment and a failed education system have left millions of youths angry and frustrated with the system.

“We believe … that we should distance ourselves from the world and serve Allah diligently without being polluted with the ills of society,” Abdullahi said.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall)

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